Providing or Possessing Contraband In Prison Lawyer -18 U.S. Code § 1791

Drones are increasingly becoming a tool for smuggling contraband into federal prisons. Inmates, seeking new methods to bypass traditional smuggling routes, are now turning to technology. This shift has led to a significant increase in the use of drones for illegal deliveries directly into prison yards.


Traditional Contraband Smuggling Vs. Drone Usage

Contraband, such as cell phones, cigarettes, marijuana, and liquor, traditionally entered prisons through corrupt staff, with inflated prices for these goods. However, the adoption of drones has eliminated the need for such intermediaries, allowing inmates to receive items directly from outside sources. These deliveries have become a significant concern for prison authorities.

Federal Authorities’ Response

The United States Attorney’s Office has stressed that drones not only pose risks inside the prison but also allow inmates to communicate with the outside world through smuggled cell phones. The federal government aims to combat this emerging threat.

The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s 2020 report also acknowledges the significant challenge drones pose to prison security. The report indicates a sharp increase in drone incidents and warns of potential uses for more dangerous purposes, such as surveillance, escape attempts, or even delivering explosives and firearms.

Despite FAA restrictions over BOP facilities, staff shortages and other challenges hinder the effective tracking and interception of drones. Minimum security federal prison camps are particularly vulnerable due to less restricted inmate movement.

Federal Contraband Law

18 U.S. Code § 1791 outlines the legal boundaries and consequences concerning the provision or possession of contraband in prisons.

Offense Definitions

18 U.S. Code § 1791 defines the offense under two main categories:

  1. Provision of Contraband to Inmates: This includes any act of providing or attempting to provide an inmate with a prohibited object, in violation of a statute, rule, or order.
  2. Inmate Possession or Creation of Contraband: This refers to an inmate making, possessing, obtaining, or attempting to obtain a prohibited object.

Punishment Structure

The statute stipulates varied levels of punishment based on the nature of the contraband:

  1. Maximum 20 Years Imprisonment: For contraband such as narcotic drugs and certain controlled substances.
  2. Maximum 10 Years Imprisonment: For objects including firearms and destructive devices.
  3. Maximum 5 Years Imprisonment: For items like marijuana and some weapons.
  4. Maximum 1 Year Imprisonment: For contraband including controlled substances not covered in other categories, currency, and communication devices.
  5. Maximum 6 Months Imprisonment: For any other objects threatening prison security or individual safety.

Consecutive Punishment Requirement

The statute mandates that any punishment for contraband offenses involving controlled substances or committed by an inmate must be served consecutively to any existing sentences.

Scope Of The Law

The statute defines “prohibited objects” as covering a range of items from weapons and drugs to currency and communication devices. It also clarifies the scope of the term “prison” to include various types of detention facilities, both federal and those operating under federal contract or agreement.

Triggering Offense Through Drone Use

Delivery Of Contraband Via Drone

The use of a drone to deliver contraband into a prison could trigger an offense under 18 U.S. Code § 1791. This scenario involves operating a drone to transport prohibited items, such as drugs, weapons, or communication devices, into a prison facility. The act of providing or attempting to provide an inmate with a prohibited object, regardless of the method used, falls under the purview of this statute. If an inmate receives or attempts to receive contraband delivered by a drone, this too can constitute an offense.