In an effort to keep weapons and other contraband from being delivered to inmates, an N.C. House committee moved Tuesday to ban drones from flying over the state’s prisons and jails.
House Bill 128 passed the House Transportation Committee Tuesday and would make it illegal to fly a drone within 500 feet of a prison or jail. Anyone who flies a drone over a correctional facility with the goal of dropping a weapon, cigarettes, alcohol or communication devices – or any other item banned inside prisons – would face a felony charge and could be fined up to $1,500.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Allen McNeill of Asheboro, said his proposal follows two incidents at North Carolina prisons in which a drone dropped banned items. On one occasion, the drone crashed inside the prison with a package containing a cell phone and alcohol, although the crash occurred away from areas containing inmates.
McNeill said at least six other states already have similar drone bans around prisons and jails. The bill’s co-sponsor, Republican Rep. John Faircloth of High Point, said he expects the number of drone incidents will increase as the technology becomes more popular.
“People are learning how to use them, and the more they learn how to use them the more innovative they will be,” Faircloth said.
Rep. Chaz Beasley, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, questioned how the bill would treat drone pilots who “inadvertently violate the buffer zone.” That would be a misdemeanor that would involve a fine of $500, legislative staffers explained.
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said such mistakes will be unlikely. “Once this gets out, if you’re flying a drone, you won’t be flying it anywhere near any type of detention centers,” he said.
Any drones found in violation of the ban could be seized through the state’s asset forfeiture process and sold to benefit education programs.
North Carolina already has a number of laws regulating drone use that don’t specifically address prisons. It’s illegal to have a drone with a weapon attached, fish or hunt using a drone, or use a drone for “commercial purposes” without a permit.
HB 128 now heads to the House Judiciary II Committee.