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State Prison Officials Blame An Escape On Drones And Cellphones (usatoday.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: A fugitive South Carolina inmate recaptured in Texas this week had chopped his way through a prison fence using wire cutters apparently dropped by a drone, prison officials said Friday. Jimmy Causey, 46, fled the Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, S.C., on the evening of July 4th after leaving a paper mache doll in his bed to fool guards into thinking he was asleep. He was not discovered missing until Wednesday afternoon. Causey was captured early Friday 1,200 miles away in a motel in Austin by Texas Rangers acting on a tip, WLTX-TV reported... "We believe a drone was used to fly in the tools that allow(ed) him to escape," South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said...

Stirling said prison officials are investigating the performance by prison guards that night but pointed to cellphones and drones as the main problem. The director said he and other officials have sought federal help for years to combat the use of drones to drop contraband into prison. "It's a simple fix," Stirling said. "Allow us to block the signal... They are physically incarcerated, but they are not virtually incarcerated."

It's the second time the same convict escaped from South Carolina's maximum security prison -- albeit the first time he's (allegedly) used a drone. The state's Law Enforcement Division Chief also complains that the federal government still prohibits state corrections officials from blocking cellphones, and "as long as cellphones continue to be utilized by inmates in prisons we're going to have things like this -- we're going to have very well-planned escapes..."
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State Prison Officials Blame An Escape On Drones And Cellphones

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2017 @07:41AM (#54777361)

    Trust me on this, if you've ever been to a SC prison, you know the guards are the real problem. They're paid shit and are often just ghetto thugs themselves. This is the perfect formula for guards willing to look the other way or even help for a small bribe. There have been numerous escapes in recent years where it was later revealed that the guards themselves had smuggled in handcuff keys and bolt-cutters to help in escapes.

    Bryan Sterling was a pure political appointee who wants to distract from the real problem by blaming drones, cellphones and other bullshit excuses so he can continue to insist that his agency doesn't need additional funding to hire decent guards and staff. He and other directors were under direct orders from Nikki Haley to never ask for a budget increase, and I suspect he's still under similar orders from Henry McMaster. It's an ongoing problem in a state where the Republican status quo is to continuously cut taxes to appease their political benefactors, no matter the consequences.

  • Deflection (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2017 @07:57AM (#54777405)

    When someone can escape a prison with a pair of wire cutters, a drone is not the problem. How did he get access to the fence? Why does it only take the possession of a pair of wire cutters to escape the prison?

    This is a "think about the children" moment where the signal blocking technology is what they want, but not the problem.

    • The problem is that a fence is supposed to keep a criminal in. I don't know, but back where I live we use walls and steel bars, inside the walls and as replacement of windows, to do the trick.

      And behold it works.

      • Re:Deflection (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @09:40AM (#54777831) Homepage
        Many areas use fencing with few if any escapes. usually two layers of fencing with sensors to report contact with (cimbing) and cutting of the fencing with motion sensors in between the two fences, as well as cameras and... Wait for it, a most radical idea: Guards who watch the fences and warn prisoners to stay away from them.

        Evidently SC prisons lack all these high falutin technologicnal type features. So a prisoner can walk up to the fence and cut a hole in it and wander off without anyone realizing what has happened until they realize the "body" in his bed hasn't moved in a couple days.

        The Drone is the least of their problems. Though it's also a simple problem. Tell the guards, any drone that approaches the fence-line is a skeet target. No more drone problems.
        • ...at least until drones come back armed. Guess drone warfare ain't so cool anymore when it's on your own soil.

    • When someone can escape a prison with a pair of wire cutters, a drone is not the problem.

      He wouldn't HAVE the wire cutters if someone didn't fly them in on a drone. The drone is very much a problem in this case.

      • Re:Deflection (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cob666 ( 656740 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @08:38AM (#54777559) Homepage

        He wouldn't HAVE the wire cutters if someone didn't fly them in on a drone. The drone is very much a problem in this case.

        NO, the drone is a result of real problems, such as lax security and protocols. Most likely, the guards weren't being paid to look the other way when inmates have cell phones and there weren't adequate measures in place to prevent an inmate from being in an escape position with a pair of wire cutters.

        • Having never been inside the prison I couldn't make an educated guess on whether there was lower than stand security at play. I would certainly think it should be standard procedure at prisons to block cell phones and do routine searches, but I'm not an expect as to what actually happens (and why that might not happen).

          I will say, the drone DID directly have an impact on the escape though. One can assume that since they used that method to get wire cutters to him, that was presumed to be a more reliable m

          • I would certainly think it should be standard procedure at prisons to block cell phones

            Unless you build a Faraday cage around the prison, those ideologically blessed jamming waves have a tendency to get out and jam law abiding citizens cell phones. Fortunately at these frequencies the signals aren't going to go far. But if you cover the entire prison ground, interior, offices, and courtyard, and at least in our local one, maybe fifty square miles of fields where prisoners might be working - which an interstate runs through, you are blanketing a pretty large area with jamming RF.

            Then again

            • I know you can buy small devices that block cell phone signals locally over a small area.

              Understandably illegal; but were it legal for prisons they could theoretically have multiple low power devices placed around a prison rather than a big powerful one that will impact a larger area.

          • I saw one suggestion to put up walls instead of fences. Certainly, this would be a better solution for preventing escapes and I hope high security prisons all have walls. Clearly this comes with a lot more expense so might not be practical for all prisons.

            What expense? Bricks are cheap, manual labor is free.

            All in all it's probably cheaper than a fence.

            • What expense? Bricks are cheap, manual labor is free.

              All in all it's probably cheaper than a fence.

              So if we arrest a bunch of Mexicans we can make the Mexicans pay for the walls (with free labor)?

    • Prisons should stop focusing on signal blocking. The FCC is against it for good reason. It can disrupt communications for legitimate users. The wireless carriers paid handsomely for exclusive use of that spectrum. The prisons have no right to be actively transmitting any signals on that spectrum.

      Here is an idea: How about signal detection instead! OMG. It would mean that cell phones could be used in designated parts of the prison occupied only by staff. It would mean that cell phone signals in pr
      • by Doke ( 23992 )
        Have you ever tried to triangulate wifi clients from access point signals? There are a lot of technical problems. Anything metal creates reflections. Anything dense, ie concrete, creates shadows. You need a lot of access points, and a very detailed cad drawing of the building, including the material of each wall and duct. It's expensive and time consuming to set up. To do that in a prison, you would need hundreds of cell phone sensors. You would also need to pay thousands of hours of contractor time
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @08:01AM (#54777429) Homepage

    If the prison pays for all outgoing and incoming calls, then they may block cellphone calls.

    Prisons have instituted ridiculously expensive phone plans to help pay for their costs.

    This is wrong, placing an undue burden on both the families and the prisoners. Wealthy prisoners should not be allowed to buy a better prison experience, which means you can not overcharge prisoners for so called luxuries.

    • Yeah, when the call for your pizza is more expensive than the pizza itself...

      • But the pizza with the correct ingredients will be worth every cent.

        "Hello Papa Jo's"
        "Hello I'd like a Hawaiian with wirecutters baked into the crust, and completely covered in anchovies."
        "Why all the anchovies?"
        "Get it past the guards".
        "It'll be there in 30min and you're free".

    • They should be able to block cell phones because prisoners aren't allowed to have unfettered and unmonitored communications with anyone but their lawyers. Yes, the fees for phone calls are ridiculous and borne by (let's assume) innocent family members, which is just plain wrong. But smuggled cell phones aren't a response to outrageous fees, they're a way to conduct criminal activity from within a prison.

      Like, "There's a guard giving me trouble, kill his wife." Or, "No, we need $1100 per kilo. If they

      • They should be able to block cell phones because prisoners aren't allowed to have unfettered and unmonitored communications with anyone but their lawyers.

        Are you willing to have everyone in the vicinity of the prison to have their cell phone service blocked as well?

        Because that is what you are proposing.

        • Are you willing to have everyone in the vicinity of the prison to have their cell phone service blocked as well?

          Well, I don't think that's a problem really....most any prison I know of, is WAAAAY out side the any cities, isolated on rural lands, where the nearest neighbor is miles away.

          They could jam away and not bother anyone really.

          It isn't like prisons are built close by to cities, etc. for many reasons.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Correct prisoners should not be able to buy a better experience. They should NOT be permitted any outgoing calls except to their legal representation.

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @10:01AM (#54777939)

        They should NOT be permitted any outgoing calls except to their legal representation.

        Blocking all calls to friends and family could be considered a violation of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment). I don't think blocking communication with what may be the more stable elements in a prisoner's life to be a good step in reducing reoffending rates.

        If they don't talk to the outside, they talk to the inside.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      Prisons have instituted ridiculously expensive phone plans to help pay for their costs.

      This is wrong, placing an undue burden on both the families and the prisoners.

      More to the point of the article, it creates what economists would call a market distortion [investopedia.com] that encourages a thriving black market in cellphones. As long as they don't allow phone service at anything approaching market rates, there will be black market phone service. This is as close as economics has to an immutable law. This situation is no different than the USSR back in the day trying (and failing miserably) to set their own currency conversion rates. Or Canute trying to order the tide.

      So the contraba

    • Mod parent up, +4 isn't high enough.

      My dumbass brother in law is in prison and deserves to be there. For him to call us costs $8 for a 10 minute call. Loading $20 onto the phone account through an automated voice prompt system charges a $3 fee too.

      It's an abuse of power. Even worse, crime correlates strongly with poverty, so it's an abuse against those that can literally least afford it.

      I can't help but feel that we could lower prison violence and criminal recidivism if we treated prisoners like human be

    • If the prison pays for all outgoing and incoming calls, then they may block cellphone calls.

      In America, jamming radio is illegal. People can and do get some hefty fines when they try it. Doesn't matter who is paying.

      Unfortunately, too few people understand that you can't jam teh evilz prizzoner's cell phone without jamming everyone else's phones in the vicinity.

    • by Ecuador ( 740021 )

      Prisons have instituted ridiculously expensive phone plans to help pay for their costs.

      Well, no, the ridiculously expensive phone plans are there purely for profit, there is no such concept as "help paying for costs" when we are mostly talking about highly profitable private prisons.
      The whole problem starts by having for-profit prisons in the first place - it is wrong for so many reasons, e.g. they benefit if you are a repeat "customer", what they call "profit" I call state tax dollar waste etc.

  • Not a solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @08:37AM (#54777555)

    At this point, premade UAVs can easily be reprogrammed to be fully autonomous (with minimal skill) and microwave jamming won't do anything to stop it. What's really needed here is for the prison guards to actually... guard the prison. -_-

    • At this point, premade UAVs can easily be reprogrammed to be fully autonomous (with minimal skill) and microwave jamming won't do anything to stop it. What's really needed here is for the prison guards to actually... guard the prison. -_-

      With minimal skill, most drones will land or otherwise not function correctly if you jam the gps signal, which is in the microwave range. Inertial and gyroscopic measurements lose accuracy quickly without gps to fuse the data accurately.
      That said I'm certainly not in favor of private prisons just ruining Gps for everyone in a large radius because of thier sloppy practices and cost cutting measures.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      At this point, premade UAVs can easily be reprogrammed to be fully autonomous (with minimal skill) and microwave jamming won't do anything to stop it. What's really needed here is for the prison guards to actually... guard the prison. -_-

      Go old school- guards on the wire armed with shotguns loaded with bird shot. Then it's just a matter of a little trap shooting if a drone flies over. It's also easy to quickly reload a shotgun to either buckshot or less lethal rounds such as bean bags in the case of a riot(or just use the birdshot, should work fine for crowd control at a distance), assault, or escape attempt. Plus it's a lot cheaper than trying to use a jammer to bring down drones.

      • A net seems like a much simpler solution.
      • Go old school- guards on the wire armed with shotguns loaded with bird shot. Then it's just a matter of a little trap shooting if a drone flies over. It's also easy to quickly reload a shotgun to either buckshot or less lethal rounds such as bean bags in the case of a riot(or just use the birdshot, should work fine for crowd control at a distance), assault, or escape attempt. Plus it's a lot cheaper than trying to use a jammer to bring down drones.

        I'm not convinced that that IS a cheaper solution. How many extra full time employees do you have to hire to stand around the perimeter looking for drones to shoot? What sort of extra liability are you opening yourself up for having that many extra guards armed 24/7?

    • by Doke ( 23992 )
      The guards aren't paid enough, so they're easily bribed.
  • Drone flights can be automated so that once released, they fly the predetermined route and drop the payload.

    LK

    • by Doke ( 23992 )
      That depends on GPS, which can also be jammed.
      • In the absence of reliable GPS, a drone can also be programmed to follow a route using inertial guidance and/or a ground-facing camera, neither of which can be jammed.

  • "Blame" (Score:4, Informative)

    by sqorbit ( 3387991 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @09:02AM (#54777665)
    Notice the title says "Blame". I think that is the perfect word. Rather than accepting responsibility, they are blaming technology. If an escape happens it's the people securing the facilities fault, whether they use a pitchfork or a drone.
  • Certainly, it is possible to ban flying RC models say eight miles around prisons, but it would not help as criminals would not observe it.

    The correctional officers should definitively learn to pilot an electric RC FPV glider, and soar above the prison, watching for drones, pilots on the ground, and other suspect activity. A glider can be in the air for hours with one battery.

    I can built such a glider at home from readily available components. Surely the mighty US state is capable to do it too and stop
    • You're right. Criminals would be the ones to ignore any such ban; however, right now the police have no way of going after anyone trying to smuggle stuff into a prison, unless they actually succeed.

      "I'm just flying my drone around officer, I'm doing nothing wrong- show me where in the law book it says you can't fly a drone with wire cutters taped to the bottom? I put them there for ballast."

      The person on the outside operates with almost no risk. A law preventing operation around the jail might stop a few

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Or you know just place a net over the prison so drones can't land/drop stuff into the yard.

      • That net won't stop a very small walking robot from carrying wire cutters up to the edge of the fence. Maybe even through several fences. The wire cutters could be part of the robot's frame.
      • by Doke ( 23992 )
        When a lightning bolt or storm knocks down the net, it becomes a ladder to help the inmates climb the wall.
  • Jimmy Causey, 46, fled the Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, S.C., on the evening of July 4th after leaving a paper mache doll in his bed to fool guards into thinking he was asleep. He was not discovered missing until Wednesday afternoon.

    Recent advances in paper mache technology have moved beyond the limits where society can control them, and are clearly to blame for this escape. Paper mache obviously must be banned from all prisons and areas near them, as well as public parks, schools, and tattoo parlors. Paper mache has no legitimate uses that I can imagine, therefore only criminals use paper mache.

  • Nobody ever heard of cellphone jammers? You can make smart ones that auto switch on when a local transmitting device is detected. Or why isn't every "cell tower" in range of that prison actually a Stingray(like) device, and all conversations are listened in to, being recorded and used in court. Encrypted data connections that cannot be decrypted (via backdoor or otherwise) are of course being denied/dropped/messed with.
  • Jamming will jam the surrounding neighborhood, and might well interfere with emergency communication from security staff. If the problem is that someone had a cellphone when they're not supposed to, fix THAT problem, just like they would deal with someone having a knife when they're not supposed to.
  • Is there any hope US will be able to control the flow of narcotics? Drones can come over the border and drop drugs and prearranged locations. There is no way to stop them.
  • If... (Score:5, Informative)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @10:10AM (#54778011) Journal

    If a drone can fly over the fence and drop tools to a prisoner, how intrinsically different is that than basically THROWING the tools over the fence?

    Sure the drone is a lot more accurate, but heck of a lot noisier too.

    I smell excuse-hunting here; this guy already escaped them once (how is it that every jackass with a DWI can get an ankle monitor, yet a prisoner IDENTIFIED as a successful escapee doesn't have one?). On the second escape, they're looking harder to CYA than to find him.

  • This is old old news. I remember when "Howling mad" Murdock built a drone out of hair dryers and garbage bags which carried him out of the prison, and that was something like forty years ago.
  • by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Monday July 10, 2017 @07:14PM (#54781977)
    Make prison/jail cells faraday cages. No electronic signal gets in, none gets out. Oh! But they won't be able to watch TV or listen to the radio. SO WHAT! It's not a bed & breakfast! IT'S A PRISON!

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