It’s not the kids who are committing these robberies, of course. They are people who work inside and out. Internet-connected mobile phones and electronic money transfers via prepaid Green Dot cards or mobile payment services like the Cash app, often with an upfront cut to outside conspirators who receive the balance on delivery, make them much more easy to coordinate.
“Frankly, prisoners for the longest time looked inward,” says Stirling. “Suddenly, contraband became very lucrative for people smuggling it in from the outside, and also for prisoners and prison gangs to distribute drugs and contraband inside.”
If the garden is dry, a pound of tobacco product can cost $800 to $4,000, a flip phone for about $1,500 and an Android or iPhone up to $3,000, says County Sheriff’s Office Maj. David Simon by Lee South Carolina And the shadow market for drone smuggling appears to be growing. In South Carolina, the facility has recorded 424 drone sightings since 2017 and has seen contraband drops increase dramatically over the years, with 29 recorded in 2017, 166 in 2021 and 108 through this May year.
Jeffrey Wilkins, the president of the Correctional Officers Union of Canada, says drones are seen, or detected by radar systems, on a daily basis in the 49 institutions the union represents. Medium security facilities with operable windows and easily pierceable mesh screens are more or less tolls. “The technology is so advanced that they can almost GPS the thing right to their cell window. They just stick their hand out their cell windows and grab it from the drones.”
Once inside, drugs and guns are causing regular outbreaks of violence among inmates and against prison officers. About twice a week, Wilkins told me, a national monitoring center gets a call from a prison where a corrections officer can’t finish a shift because of an injury that requires medical attention.
“The different types of weapons we’re seeing now are things we’ve never seen before, like ceramic blades, knives, brass knuckles,” says Wilkins. “The amount of drugs that have been seized is simply unbelievable.”
According to Correctional Service of Canada data Wilkins shared with WIRED, of approximately 12,000 inmates in medium and maximum security institutions, assault incidents increased by 9.6 percent since April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022 and were up an astounding 185 percent. in structured intervention units that house the most isolated inmates from the general population. Meanwhile, seizures of mobile phones, calling cards, mobile phone chargers and SIM cards across all institutions rose from approximately 100 to 1,100 between 2017 and 2021.
The growing severity of the problem, in the United States and internationally, is likely part of the reason why Judge Dudley Bowen of the Southern District of Georgia sentenced Lo and Toure to twelve months in prison, per the advisory guidelines of their agreements of guilt
“What’s important for others to know,” he says at Touré’s sentencing hearing, “is that, on the one hand, if I try to put nine or 10 cell phones in jail, I’ll only be on probation for three years, maybe to go down to the Salvation Army and make some beds or something. Or, if I try to do the same thing, it looks like federal prison will be my option.”