New drone law helps increase public safety in NC prisons

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014 file photo, a drone is demonstrated in Brigham City, Utah. Researchers say there have been at least 241 reports of close encounters between drones and manned aircraft that meet the government’s definition of a near midair collision, including 28 in which pilots maneuvered to get out of the way. A report released Friday by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone in New York says 90 of the close encounters involved drones and commercial jets, the majority of which had the capacity to carry 50 people or more. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) — A new North Carolina law went into effect December 1 to help increase public safety at prisons around North Carolina.

As of December 1, it is now illegal to fly unmanned aircraft systems (drones), two-hundred-fifty feet above and within five hundred feet of correctional facilities.

Under the new law, those who use drones to try to sneak cell phones, weapons or other contraband material into a correctional facility can be charged with a felony.

People who simply fly drones near prisons can be charged with misdemeanors.

“Unfortunately, there are those who want to use this technology for nefarious purposes rather than its intended use,” said Erik Hooks, Public Safety Secretary. “This law provides us with an additional tool to help keep contraband out of correctional facilities, which in turn helps with maintaining safety and security.”

North Carolina legislators approved the new law earlier in July with support from the Department of Public Safety to prevent illegal items from making it inside any of the state’s correctional facilities.

Prior to the enactment of the legislation, there were several instances of drones flying near prisons including two incidents in which drones with contraband material attached were found.

In both cases, correctional staff confiscated the materials and the drones before they reached inmates.

“We have heard of incidents in other states where drones have successfully delivered contraband to inmates,” said Kenneth Lassiter, Director of Prisons. “We are hopeful that the new law will serve as a deterrent as we will push for prosecuting violators to the fullest extent should it become necessary.”

The legislation also prevents model aircraft from flying near correctional facilities.

The legislation does include some exceptions for Emergency Management and law enforcement operations.

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