New law enhances prison safety

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Although drones were not used in the attempted delivery of illegal contraband on two occasions this year at Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor, a newly enacted law will put more teeth into the punishment of those arrested for such a crime.

A new law went into effect Dec. 1 that helps increase public safety at prisons in North Carolina. That law makes it illegal to fly unmanned aircraft systems, also called drones, 250 feet above and within 500 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 Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “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.”

At Bertie Correctional in mid-March, two local men – Dejaun Deovonte Davis, age 23, of Woodland, and 26-year-old Tyrone Marquise Robinson of Lewiston were charged by the Windsor Police with 23 counts each of attempting to furnish cell phones to an inmate, possession with intent to sell and deliver Schedule 4 controlled substances (Xanax), and possession with intent to sell and deliver Schedule 6 controlled substances (marijuana).

The duo tossed two volleyballs overt the fence at Bertie Correctional. A search of those two volleyballs plus one in possession of one of the suspects at the time of his arrest resulted in the recovery of 8.9 ounces of marijuana, 80 Xanax pills, three bags of tobacco, and 23 cell phones.

Then, in mid-June, four individuals who allegedly attempted to deliver illegal contraband to an inmate or inmates were arrested by the Windsor Police following a traffic stop. That stop came on the heels of a pair of suspects fleeing on foot into a wooded area near the prison after BCI officers witnessed two individuals throwing contraband across the prison fence.

The four individuals, all listing addresses in Robeson County, were each charged with possession of a controlled substance on prison premises, possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana, and felony conspiracy.

In mid-October, two men from out-of-state were arrested for allegedly attempting to deliver contraband to Rivers Correctional Institution near Winton. Both were charged with one felony count each of conspiracy, and one misdemeanor count each of simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes said the two men were suspected of trying to smuggle in cell phones to the prison, but were caught prior to that taking place.

He added that his department has experienced issues in the past with individuals attempting to smuggle contraband, particularly cellphones, into Rivers Correctional, a privately owned and operated prison that accepts inmates from the Washington, DC area.

Secretary Hooks expressed thanks to Governor Roy Cooper and North Carolina legislators for recognizing the importance of maintaining secure boundaries in the air, as well as on the ground.

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. However, it does include some exceptions for Emergency Management and law enforcement operations.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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