COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio may become the first state in the nation to use drones to keep an eye on its prison yards and fences.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is considering using unmanned aerial vehicles as eyes in the skies over two state prisons in Warren County.
DRC Managing Director of Operations Ed Voorhies said the department is studying the feasibility of using drones to improve security.
The state just opened a 30-day window to collect public comment about the idea. After that, prison officials will decide whether to start testing at the two prisons.
“This is in no way an approach to try to replace live staff members with technology,” Voorhies said. “This would be an augmentation of our existing security staff.”
DRC is looking at three drone options to carry cameras above prison property: a tethered helium balloon, a multi-rotor helicopter and a fixed-wing vehicle. Costs have not been calculated, he said.
The cameras may be equipped with infrared sensors to detect people outside the fences approaching after dark to throw contraband — tobacco, drugs or weapons — inside for inmates to pick up. “Right now we have difficulty detecting that kind of an external threat,” Voorhies said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio lobbyist Gary Daniels said the DRC will need policies in place for how the technology will be used.
“We are in a state in this country where government seems to want to surveil all of our whereabouts and what it is that we’re up to in the name of anti-terrorism or just because they want to do it,” he said. While there is little expectation of privacy on prison property, there is a potential for misuse if the cameras are used beyond the prison perimeter, Daniels said.