U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Contraband and Drones in Correctional Facilities

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2022
12 pages

This “technology brief”- part of a series that focuses on contraband in correctional facilities – presents an overview of the options and challenges associated with detecting and mitigating drone-delivered contraband in correctional facilities in the United States.


ABST Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), used to deliver contraband into correctional facilities pose three major threats to correctional facilities: 1) transporting/dropping contraband into correctional facilities; 2) creating a distraction to increase the chances of infiltration of contraband by other methods while security is distracted by the drone; and 3) the use of drones to monitor an area without detection to prepare for drops. Among the contraband smuggled into correctional facilities via drone use are cell phones, SIM cards, drugs, escape paraphernalia, and weapons. Successful strategies to reduce contraband entering correctional facilities combine technology-based solutions with associated policies and procedures. Technical complexities, legislative constraints, rules, and regulations limit correctional agencies’ options when planning regulations to counter the use of drones to facilitate providing contraband to inmates. Thus, most solutions must focus on technology-based detection to support improved facility contraband management. A variety of terms are associated with drones and are used interchangeably, but for the sake of consistency, this report poses a number of definitions.  This brief offers high-level insights on solutions to detect and react to drones and highlights some technologies and active strategies for detecting and countering or mitigating drone use to smuggle contraband into correctional facilities. When developing plans to manage drones, correctional agencies are strongly advised to review an interagency advisory published by the FAA, Federal Communications

Date Published: October 1, 2022