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In 2009, guards at a prison in Brazil noticed something strange: a pigeon sitting on an electrical wire overhead with a bag tied to one of its legs. They coaxed it to the ground, opened the bag and found parts of a cellphone inside. The next day, they found another pigeon with a bag in the exercise yard. It was carrying the phone's charger. Inmates had evidently raised the birds inside the prison walls and smuggled them out, knowing that when released they would return home.

All that is to say that the news this week that Maryland officials found a remote-controlled drone loaded with drugs, pornography and tobacco outside the state prison complex in Cumberland is surprising only in that it didn't happen sooner. Stories about the ingenuity with which prisoners will try to smuggle contraband behind the walls are legion, and they go way beyond hiding things inside birthday cakes, or even inside body cavities. In Pennsylvania, prescription drugs were mailed into prisons, hidden under postage stamps. In New Jersey, drugs were melted into paste that were used to color pictures of Snow White, Cinderella and other characters in a coloring book with "To Daddy" scrawled across the top of the pages. Talk to anyone who's worked in a prison for long and they'll marvel at what could be accomplished if inmates' creativity could only be harnessed for the forces of good.

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The rising availability of commercial drones is particularly worrisome for prison officials because they are small, hard to detect and capable of delivering substantial payloads. A swarm of drones delivering weapons, for example, would be next to impossible to stop and could create a security nightmare.

There may be no perfect solution, but some technological advances could help. Some companies are advertising drone detection technology for prisons, and officials in Maryland estimate it could cost up to $400,000 per institution. If it works, it may well be worth the investment. Potentially more useful is technology that could prevent drones from flying over prisons altogether. It exists now and wouldn't necessarily cost the state a thing.

After a drone crashed into the White House lawn this year, the company that manufactured the device, DJI, announced that it would update all its drones with software that would prevent them from flying within a roughly 16-mile radius of the White House and would work to create similar restrictions at other sensitive locations. Last week, New York Sen. Charles Schumer introduced an amendment to Federal Aviation Administration authorization legislation that would require drone manufacturers to implement so-called "geofencing" technology in their devices. He pitched the proposal as a means to prevent collisions between drones and passenger aircraft — also a major concern, given an alarming rise in the number of drone sightings by pilots — but its applications for prison security are obvious. The FAA, in establishing new rules for commercial drones, failed to include a geofencing requirement, so it's up to Congress to mandate it.

Hackers have reportedly managed to get around the geofencing, but anything that limits the ability of criminals and their accomplices to buy an off-the-shelf smuggling machine is clearly a help in the same way that technology allowing Maryland prisons to block unauthorized cell phone calls is. It may not prevent all contraband from getting into a prison, but it surely makes it harder.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't take a drone to get contraband into a prison. All it requires is determined inmates, lax security procedures, corruptible guards or, as in the case of the Black Guerrilla Family scandal in the now shuttered Baltimore City Detention Center, all three. No technological solution to the contraband problem that plagues prisons everywhere is foolproof, and there is no substitute for effective management. Maryland should explore drone detection technology and should push for geofencing, but they ultimately need to remember that it's the people who guard our inmates who are the best defense against contraband, however it gets through the prison walls.

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