(Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press file)

Prison delivery: Drones are now illegally taking pot to inmates

The introduction of low-cost drones to the consumer market has been a headache for many a federal and state official. And now the people charged with protecting prisons in the U.S. and abroad are having to deal with something they, literally, never saw coming.

Imagine this: Lightweight, nimble and near-silent drones making midnight deliveries — cellphones, marijuana, tobacco — over towering prison fences to awaiting prisoners inside. This is actually happening in a number of prisons in America, Ireland, England, Australia and Canada, according to this great New York Times story, which calls the system “the high-tech version of smuggling a file into a prison in a birthday cake, and it underscores the headache that drones are now creating for law enforcement and national security officials, who acknowledge that they have few, if any, ways of stopping them.”

The Times story starts in the middle of the night at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, S.C..

During the graveyard shift at 1:44 a.m., security cameras at the prison here picked up the blinking lights of an unidentified flying object approaching the facility’s fence.

A corrections officer was dispatched to investigate, but by the time she got there, all she could see was a man running away into the dense forest that surrounds the prison.

It was not until dawn that officers found a package that included a cellphone, tobacco and marijuana tangled in the power lines outside the prison and a small drone that had crashed in the bushes nearby. In the woods, investigators located a makeshift campground, the remote control device used to fly the drone, a bottle of grape-flavored Gatorade and drugs.

Bryan P. Stirling, director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, told the Times how the system appears to work.

“It was a delivery system,” he said. “They were sending in smaller amounts in repeated trips. They would put it on there, they would deliver it, someone inside would get it somehow, and they would send it back out and send more in.”

Stirling’s last quote in the story shows how serious this issue truly is.

“We put up higher fences to stop people from throwing things over them,” Stirling said. “Now they’re just flying over them.”