Skip to main content

Drones deliver drugs, smartphones, smart watches to Ontario prison

One of the most lucrative drone delivery services has been in operation for a few years without the public even being aware. A Toronto Star report reveals that drones were used “dozens” of times on deliveries to the Ontario, Canada, prison in 2019, shuttling in tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs and contraband – including smart watches.

Toronto Star journalist Peter Edwards filed an Access to Information request, seeking details about drone flights to the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ontario. The four-story prison is one of the oldest still in operation in Canada, and houses 573 inmates. Those male prisoners are in minimum, medium, and maximum security.

They’re also apparently eager for contraband.

Regular drone deliveries of contraband

From time to time, Collins Bay Institution pops up in the news. Often, those news stories involve drones dropping contraband somewhere in the outdoor areas of the prison accessible to inmates. Edwards thought there might be a bigger story there, and he was right. The request showed there had been 27 reported incidents of drone flights to the prison in 2019, an average of slightly more than one flight every two weeks.

And where are they flying into? Here’s a look at a drone image of the prison, posted by correctional officers nearly four years ago:

The Collins Bay Institution…

Marijuana, smartphones, smart watches – and more

And what were these drones flying in? Well, for those deliveries that were successfully retrieved by inmates, we’ll never know. But plenty of contraband was seized by guards, and it provides a window into what smugglers were flying in, as well as its inflated value in the prison economy. Here are a few examples from the Star‘s report.

September 8, 2019: A package about the size of a softball, wrapped in a women’s stocking, was dropped. It contained 15 small cylinders of marijuana, each about 2″ long and which could be hidden in a body cavity. The value? Inside that prison, says documents obtained by the Star, about CAD $45,270.

In addition to marijuana, popular contraband includes crystal meth, carfentanil, knives, cellphones, and even some smart watches (lots of these guys work out).

When does all this happen?

Usually at night, and likely with any drone LEDs covered up with tape or otherwise disabled. But there are some daylight deliveries:

Sometimes, the documents state, drones swoop down in silent squadrons in broad daylight, like on July 31, 2019, when two drones were seen clearing a wall at 2:05 p.m. Usually, drones are launched in the dead of the night, like on July 1, when a $10,000 DJI Inspire model capable of carrying a six-kilogram payload crashed shortly before 2 a.m. while hauling tobacco, marijuana, cigar leaves, two micro USB ports, two USB cords, two mini cellphones, three charging cables and four SIM cards — the institutional value of the load estimated at $18,464.

Toronto Star report

Why does it happen?

This particular prison seems to be popular for drone deliveries because of its location. It’s close to the city center, but also has some parts of its perimeters that back onto fields. You know what the real estate people say: location, location, location.

That, plus incredible prices for goods that fetch only a fraction of that price on the outside. One delivery contained two older smart phones the Star report says would have been worth about $400 combined on eBay. But inside this institution? About $8,000 on the prison black market.

The report says prison authorities are looking at various counterdrone measures to end these drone “deliveries.” In late January 2020, two people on the outside – and one inmate – were charged in relation to a drone drop.