Drone Delivery to Inmates at Utah Correctional Facilities Prohibited

Due to a bill passed earlier this year, inmates at any of the correctional facilities throughout Utah are prohibited from receiving packages by drone delivery.

H.B. 59

Photo by: John

With the numerous laws that are passed or amended each year in Utah, some are seen as needed, others may be seen as unfair, and then there are a select few laws that leave residents wondering why caused such a regulation from being necessary. H.B. 59 that was passed along with several others this year dealt with unmanned aircrafts, otherwise known as drones, and whether or not they were allowed to be used to deliver items to inmates at correctional facilities. The section amended was Utah Code 72-14-102 and 304 which now states: “An individual may not operate an unmanned aircraft system:
(a) To carry or drop any item to or inside the property of a correctional facility;
(b) In a manner that interferes with the operations or security of a correctional facility.”

A law that may be seen as obvious, H.B. 59 passed in the2018 General Session following a growing problem of illegal package deliveries near prisons.

Illegal contraband drops

In years past, there have been some inmates and their helpers on the outside that have used different methods to try and sneak things into correctional facilities. This can include illegal contraband hidden inside packages, books, and cards. Unlawful items have also been smuggled in with an inmate upon arrest or by another person visiting the inmate at the correctional facility during a scheduled visitation time. Now with the increase in technology, there is a new scheme that has been used to sneak illegal contraband into prisons – drones. Drones have been used across the country to drop items beyond the fence where inmates may have access to them. Drones do not have to approach closely, but can soar several hundred feet above the ground and drop items such as tobacco products, drugs, porn, cell phones and even weapons without being spotted by prison guards. Utah lawmakers wanted to criminalize the practice before it started in Utah, hopefully to prevent any incidents from occurring. Utah Code 72-14-304 that was amended by H.B. 59 now lists the penalty for flying drones near prisons as a class B misdemeanor or a third degree felony if items are dropped on the property of the correctional facility.

Permitted items sent to inmates

While most law abiding citizens wouldn’t dream of using a drone to send items to incarcerated loved ones, this amended law may cause them to wonder exactly what they are allowed to bring or send to those behind bars. One important thing to note is that no item is allowed to be brought into a correctional facility by a visitor of an inmate. Even personal items such as purses, wallets, or jackets are to be left in vehicles or in rented lockers. There are things that may be sent to inmate however. Those who wish to have items delivered to inmates do so through a carefully regulated system put in place by the Utah Department of Corrections.

Letters– Regarding letters sent by mail, UDC states “Inmates may begin receiving mail as soon as they arrive in prison. Multilayered cards, crayon and marker drawings are not allowed.”

Photos– If a friend or family member wants to send pictures to inmates they note: “Inmates are allowed to have 25 photos in their possession; the photos can not be larger than 8X10, may not be Polaroids and must not be pornographic in nature. Inmates may not have photos of or including themselves.”

Books– “Books may only be purchased through the prison Commissary and are sent directly to the prison by the book vendor. Each book is inspected before being delivered to an inmate.”

Magazines – “Family and friends may get a magazine subscription for an inmate by filling out a subscription form listing the inmate, his or her offender number and the facility address. Magazines are then mailed directly to the inmate by the publisher.”

Packages– When a family member goes to camp or on a church mission, their family can send care packages with personal items and comforts from home. Inmates are not allowed these same types of luxuries. UDC warns that “Inmates may not receive packages except when authorized for medical reasons.”

Money – If there is something that a Utah state inmate needs that family or friends would like to help them receive, they may put money onto an inmate’s account. UDC explains that this can be done by mail, telephone, internet, or kiosks through a “third-party provider (Access Corrections) [that] handles deposits to inmate accounts.” Then inmates may use the deposited funds to purchase items from the Commissary.

For more information on regulations surrounding Utah Correctional Facility, contact the Utah Department of Corrections. For help following charges related to illegal drone use, speak with an attorney.

Penalties Increased for Flying Drones over a Wildfire in Utah

Following repeated disruptions to wildfire suppression in southern Utah, lawmakers have increased penalties for flying drones over an active wildfire and authorities now have permission to disable or destroy the pesky unmanned aircraft.

Saddle Fire

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

A lightning strike on a mountainous ridge southwest of the small town of Pine Valley, Utah started a fire that has now been burning for over a month, threatening residents and destroying nearly 2,300 acres of coniferous trees in the Dixie National Forest. While the blaze was naturally occurring and not human-caused, someone has repeatedly slowed fire control efforts and put homes and lives at risk by flying hobby drones nearby.

Safety risk

Drones above Wildfire

Photo by: Tony Alter

When a drone is spotted near a wildfire, attending fire crews will ground all aircraft needed to fight the blaze. This is due to the risk of the unmanned drones colliding with a human occupied fire control aircraft and damaging a helicopter’s rotor blades or being sucked through the intake. Any collision of the two aircraft would risk the safety of the individuals flying the helicopter along with those on the ground.

Every minute counts

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Every minute counts when fighting wildfires. When fire suppression aircraft are grounded even for a brief amount of time, wildfires can shift and grow rapidly which further hinders any chance of containment. The containment of the Saddle Fire in southern Utah has seen multiple delays due to drones flying in the restricted area. Following the first delay the fire grew and moved quickly, causing an evacuation order to be issued for the residents in Pine Valley. Following these and many other wildfire suppression delays, laws have now been changed.

Penalties for drones near wildfires

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

The drone bill HB0126 signed last Wednesday now allow authorities to jam a drone’s signal to bring it down and increase charges to: a class B misdemeanor for flying in a restricted wildfire area; a class A misdemeanor if fire crews have to ground an aircraft; a third degree felony if a drone collides with an aircraft; and a second degree felony if a drone causes a fire suppression aircraft to crash. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted the following statement following the bill signing: “Today’s special session vote sends a strong message to Utahns that we will not tolerate reckless drone interference near wildfires.”

Recreational Drones Spotted Over Utah Prison

Recreational drones have been spotted flying above penitentiaries around the United States, with the most recent spotting occurring over the Draper Utah prison.

Drug smuggling drones

Photo by: Doctor Popular

Photo by: Doctor Popular

A  guard caught sight of recreational drones flying over one of the outdoor yard areas for inmates at the Draper Utah prison . The yard was shut down and all inmates ordered inside while prison personnel made sure that nothing dangerous or illegal was dropped. The concern for recreational drones doing more than viewing may stem from incidents around the United States where similar drones were used to smuggle drugs or tobacco into prisons.

Illegal and improper use

In addition to using drones to intentionally break the law, many hobbyists are not following the guidelines set in place for the unmanned aircraft systems. Like any vehicle or aircraft, recreational drones have rules such as:

• Keeping the drone visible to the operator

• Staying away from people

• staying under the 55 lb. weight limit

• Not flying for a profit and

• Flying safely, not recklessly

Restricted Areas

There are also restricted areas where recreational drone use is prohibited such as:

• National Parks

• Airports

• Military sites

• Above 400 feet

• Prisons

Besides recreational drones being flown over restricted areas, they have also been spotted by firefighters battling wildfires and by residents who are concerned over privacy matters. Recreational drone owners need to remember common sense and common courtesy when operating a unmanned aircraft system.

FAA penalties for recreational drones

According to the Federal Aviation Association, “Hobby or recreational flying doesn’t require FAA approval but you must follow safety guidelines.” They also state that “Unauthorized drone operators may be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and up to 20 years in jail.” For legal counsel regarding illegal use of recreational drones, contact a criminal defense attorney.