South Korea to use drones to monitor prison inmates
A six-month test at three penitentiaries will start next month
By Kang Seung-woo
The government plans to use drones to keep a close watch on prisoners, according to the Ministry of Justice.
In July, the government will begin a six-month test operation of unmanned aerial vehicles at three penitentiaries: at Anyang in Gyeonggi Province, Wonju in Gangwon Province and Cheongsong in North Gyeongsang Province.
The drones for the mission will feature a camera capable of sending real-time videos and movement-tracking autonomous flight capability. It will also be capable of flying at night.
The ministry will use drones to patrol inside and outside prisons, monitor inmates’ movements and trace fugitives.
In addition to the guard mission, they will scramble when an emergency happens at nighttime or a fire occurs and responders are unable to gain access in a timely manner.
“Use of drones will help raise the efficiency of watching prisoners and save costs in personnel,” a justice ministry official said.
Along with surveillance, the ministry looks to take advantage of the test operation in preparation for drone-based crimes.
In other countries, criminals have started using drones to smuggle drugs, weapons and other contraband to inmates.
Security cameras caught a drone delivering drugs and mobile phones to prisoners at a London prison in April 2016. A month earlier, U.S. authorities found an inmate who conspired with two outsiders to use a drone to deliver drugs and pornography into a prison.
“Although Korea has yet to face similar reports, as drones become more accessible to the public, we need to take measures in advance,” the ministry official said.
This March, the ministry came up with a new revised law pertaining to inmates that includes drones on the list of prohibited items for prisoners.
In 2011, the government considered using robotic prison guards, but it scrapped the plan due to concerns of human rights abuses and some technical limitations.
Separately, the land ministry recently started using drones for safety inspections of high pylons, cliffs and other hard-to-reach facilities and locations.
The ministry purchased four unmanned aerial vehicles for 60 million won (US$53,600) and Korail will use them.
The drones will inspect more than 40 locations, including bridges, tunnels and power transmission towers as well as cliffs for potential mudslides.