Prison wardens are aiming their hopes high on a state Senate bill that will keep drone use near prisons down low.
A bill proposed by State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, which tries to restrict drone use near prisons passed a Senate Corrections subcommittee on Thursday. The legislation bars a drone operator from flying 500 feet or less from a prison or detention center without permission. Violators could face criminal charges. The measure advanced to the full Corrections and Penology Committee with a unanimous vote.
Sheheen said the subcommittee expanded the language from his initial bill to include adding the restrictions around county jails and detention centers in addition to state prisons.
The proposal comes amid reports that drones are being used to smuggle contraband inside the walls of correction facilities from a remote location. Sheheen said cell phones are the most sought-after commodity in South Carolina prisons, but weapons and other dangerous substances also find a way inside prison walls.
“If you are near a prison facility and you are flying a drone, you have to be way up in the air like an airplane would be or you ought not to be flying it unless you have… the written permission of the prison authority.” Sheheen explained.
While the sub-committee seemed enthusiastic about the bill’s restrictions, several private sector industries did not share such high praise. Utility companies said they routinely use drones to survey property and power lines.
“Interestingly enough, we got the same concern from the movie industry,” Sheheen told South Carolina Radio Network. “Apparently the movies sometimes come with permission into prisons and use the prison facility as backdrops and wanted to make sure they could still do that with drones.”
The Kershaw senator said those studios could still use drones so long as they obtain written permission from the facility.