Corrections Airspace Security Study

White Paper

Corrections Airspace Security Study



The corrections industry is on high alert for drones in the airspace. Drones have appeared over facilities, spying on operations and dropping contraband. The consequences of drones over correctional facilities have been costly and have threatened the safety of staff and inmates. One state-level correctional facility implemented a nine-month-long airspace study to help identify where and when drones appear in the local airspace and are proactive in solving the issue of drone threats.

The Dedrone Corrections Airspace Security Study takes a look at the unauthorized drone flight data collected by a single, undisclosed state over the course of nine months. During this time, the study was completed in two phases. This study can be replicated by any state correctional facility as a readily available resource to not only inform of airspace threats and change security procedures, but also to provide data to legislators looking to create regulations that protect the public from unwanted and threatening drone activity.

Drone Crimes at US Correctional Facilities Disrupt Operations and Threaten the Safety of Staff and Inmates

No correctional facility is immune to drone breaches. Contraband drops and other intrusions may remain undetected by security staff, placing prison staff and inmates at risk of injury. Drone deliveries can not only increase the risk of violence between inmates but threaten the physical safety of the facility and the people protecting it. Undetected drones can also expose security vulnerabilities by showing a bird’s eye view of staff rotations and inmate movement.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the federal airspace and has taken steps to protect federal correctional facilities from malicious drones. In 2018, the FAA and Department of Justice established restrictions on drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of certain federal prison locations. In addition to potentially facing criminal smuggling charges, drone pilots carrying contraband or who violate the flight restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including civil penalties.

States such as California have also outlawed flights over prisons, providing prosecutors an additional legal avenue in the event that evidence for the contraband is not available, but if a suspected smuggler is caught with a drone. Laws are emerging at the state and local level, but there are significant gaps in coverage that leave correctional facilities, who are immediately vulnerable to drone threats, unprotected by law.

Here are a few examples how drones are disrupting state correctional facilities, and the consequences:

  • Ohio DOC fends off riots after drone drops contraband: One of the first publicly documented drone incidents occurred in 2015 when the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections reported a yard fight broke out between 75 inmates after a drone dropped off a package in the yard. 144.5 grams of tobacco, 65.4 grams of marijuana and 6.6 grams of heroin were dropped from the air. A fight ensued and the package was thrown out of sight into the prison’s south yard. Officers had to use pepper spray to get the situation under control, and inmates were later strip-searched before being allowed to return to their cells.
  • South Carolina DOC reveals maximum-security prison break with assistance from drone contraband: After testing out drone deliveries, inmates were able to acquire more creative tools to support not only their drug habits but also test out the physical security of the facility. In 2017, South Carolina Department of Corrections reported a drone-assisted prison break. A prisoner broke out of a maximum-security prison using a cell phone to coordinate his movement, a makeshift dummy to throw off patrol officers, and a critical tool delivered via drone - wire cutters. After breaking through fences, the fugitive triggered a manhunt. Law enforcement apprehended him, and he was captured with a semi-automatic pistol, a pump shotgun, $47,654 in cash and four cell phones.
  • Pennsylvania DOC declares state of emergency due to flow of contraband: Between May 31 and September 1, more than 80 staff members and inmates at Pennsylvania Department of Corrections facilities reported being sickened, and toxicology results onfirmed the presence of synthetic and illegal substances from smuggled contraband. For a period of twelve days, all 21 Pennsylvania prisons were locked down and 15,000 employees were required to don protective gear. To counter the flow of smuggled ontraband, PA DOC immediately expanded their security protocols, including the implementation of drone detection technology.

For more references on how drones disrupt correctional facilities, visit the Dedrone drone incident center.


State DOC Incorporates Airspace Security Technology to Protect Operations and Collect Data

A state DOC worked with Dedrone, a counterdrone technology company, to understand unwanted drone activity at their facilities. The Dedrone system has been proven effective at multiple state correctional facilities, and at the beginning of the study, had active installations at five locations in this specific study’s state.

Proactive drone detection is used as a diagnostic tool, building intelligence around the scope and problem by auditing airspace, and then helping translate that information into strategic security protocol changes. Dedrone technology is completely passive and complies with federal and state privacy laws. A drone emits radio signals in order to communicate with its operator, and Dedrone sensors analyze these signals to detect drones, identify their manufacturer, determine their location, and provide a range of other information to mitigate drone threats and provide airspace security.

At correctional facilities, drone detection technology can be seamlessly incorporated into an existing security ecosystem. Security personnel can use flight data to determine if a single drone has visited the area multiple times or if there are multiple, individual intruders, and record if there are certain days or times where there are an increase in incidents. This data is invaluable when looking to identify and prosecute pilots who violate laws.

Technology Background

The Dedrone platform automatically detects, classifies and protects against drone threats. The core of Dedrone’s counter-drone system is DedroneTracker.AI, Dedrone’s software platform. The DedroneTracker.AI platform analyzes information from Dedrone’s RF hardware, which provides long-range detection and classifies drones. DedroneTracker.AI uses Dedrone’s “DedroneDNA” database to recognize and classify drones. DroneTracker also integrates with 3rd-party sensors and triggers alerts and countermeasures.

Technologies used for corrections Airspace security study

  • DedroneTracker.AI: the software platform that detects and protects against drone-based threats
  • DedroneSensors: Dedrone RF-100 and Dedrone RF-300: Dedrone’s radio frequency sensors detect and classify drones via multiple, integrated software-defined radios (SDRs). Detection range can reach up to 1 mile, depending on installation and environment characteristics. RF-300 identifies the location of the drone.

With drone detection technology, state correctional facilities now have the upper hand in protecting the airspace from unwanted drones and dangerous contraband deliveries.


The Corrections Airspace Security Study

The Dedrone Corrections Airspace Security Study began in March of 2018 with the installation of three Dedrone RF-100 Sensors at a state penitentiary and two correctional complexes. Phase II of the study began in September of 2018, with the addition of two new sites, expanding the study to a total of five locations. The DOC installed RF-100 sensors at these new locations, one of which was a correctional complex, and the other, a training center. Additionally, due to significant drone activity at one of the Phase I locations, the DOC expanded their study at this location by adding a single Dedrone RF-300 sensor. The RF-300 provides an additional layer of data from the RF-100, including localizing and tracking of drones and pilots.

Data for the airspace study can be found below:

Phase I: March - August 2018

  • 1 RF-100 at three locations

Phase II: September - December 2018

  • 1 RF-100 at five locations
  • 1 RF-300 added to a Phase 1 location

During Phase I and Phase II, there were nine instances when DedroneTracker.AI detected unauthorized drones which were also confirmed visually by institutional staff.


The Future of State Correctional Airspace is Controlled and Protected Against All Drone Threats

Drone intrusions at correctional facilities are a persistent, ongoing threat that will only escalate with time as inmates continue to test the boundaries of vulnerable airspace. Many correctional facilities are committed to staying ahead of the threat and finding proactive solutions to secure our airspace from drones.

Corrections security and emergency response teams are prepared for a myriad of critical incidents from staff assaults, riots, escape attempts, natural disasters and major power outages. With counterdrone technology, corrections leaders are first gaining situational awareness and determine how many drones are entering the airspace. With this data, correctional facilities can not only immediately act to protect their operations, but also have an arsenal of information to assist state and local entities to develop safe and smart legislation that will encourage innovation and protect correctional facilities from bad actors.

For more information on counterdrone technology for correctional facilities, visit

Free Whitepaper

Download White Paper

You can get a PDF version of this White Paper for free here.

Get the Friends of Dedrone News

Get in touch

  • Washington DC Area
    +1 703 260 8051
  • United Kingdom
    +44 3303 410920
  • Germany
    +49 561 8617990