The Ohio penal system is to be the first in the country to use drones to monitor its facilities. On October 2, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections began a pilot program to test the capabilities of two $170,000 drones bought to monitor the exterior of its Lebanon and Warren Correctional Institutions.
The drones are called the Aerostat and are a tethered system that hovers overhead but is not free roaming.
The flying machine has day and nighttime cameras to monitor inmates in the yard as well as keeping cameras focused on fence perimeters to make sure no unwanted visitors sneak up to the fence line.
“We believe these vehicles and sensors can be useful,” said Ohio Prisons Director Ed Voorhies. “There’s no denying, we’re trying to find ways to attack and prevent that external threat, which is ever increasing, (in our prisons).”
The department will test three different drone systems, each for a thirty day period. Prison officials will also test a helicopter-based monitoring system as well as a fixed wing scheme.
“We’re generally going to be conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine if and what type of security we’re going to use,” Voorhies said.
The Areostat drones were bought by the Ohio Department of Transportation, but the total cost of running them has not been disclosed.
ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said that the drones could also be useful elsewhere in the state.
“These devices can be used for a number of different type of things. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that during a national disaster such a device can be used to aid emergency personnel,” he said.
Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have been keeping an eye on the growth of drone use in the US. In its public policy statement, the ACLU notes that rules for drones “must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a surveillance society.”
The ACLU also warns that police should not be allowed to decide on their own that drones will be used but must be guided by voters and lawmakers.
Additionally, the ACLU has already filed several lawsuits over the government’s use of drones.
Others have sought to find out what certifications or authorizations the U.S. Department of Transportation have already issued for the use of drones. The use of drones is so new that no body of law of regulations have caught up to the technology.