June 25, 2008 / 4:26 PM / 12 years ago

Drugs, phones wing their way to prisoners

Carrier pigeons walk on an empty platform during a public transport strike in Marseille November 22, 2005. A sharp increase in drugs and cellphones found inside a Brazilian prison mystified officials -- until guards spotted some distressed pigeons struggling to stay airborne. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A sharp increase in drugs and cellphones found inside a Brazilian prison mystified officials — until guards spotted some distressed pigeons struggling to stay airborne.

Inmates at the prison in Marilia, Sao Paulo state had been training carrier pigeons to smuggle in goods using cell phone sized pouches on their backs, a low-tech but ingenious way of skipping the high-tech security that visitors faced.

“We have sophisticated equipment to search people when they go in, but they avoided this by finding another way to bring in cellphones and drugs,” prison director Luciano Gamateli told Globo TV.

Officials said the pigeons, bred and trained inside the prison, lived on the jail’s roof, where prisoners would take their deliveries before smuggling the birds out again through friends and family.

The scheme was uncovered when guards on the prison walls saw some pigeons struggling to fly.

Brazil’s overcrowded prisons have notoriously lax security, with cell-phone and drug use common among inmates. Two years ago, a powerful Sao Paulo prison gang used cell-phones to orchestrate a wave of attacks against police and public property.

Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Sandra Maler

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