June 12, 2009 / 12:59 PM / 10 years ago

Global crisis breaks into Hungarian prisons

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - The financial crisis will hit you even if you are behind bars. Saved by a $25.1 billion IMF-lifeline in October, Hungary faces its worst crisis in almost two decades and as the economy slides deeper into recession and job losses accelerate, those on the inside are also feeling the pinch.

Penal authority BVOP, which oversees the operation of Hungary’s 32 prisons, said this week it would temporarily shut down a facility in Budapest as “the economic crisis and lower state revenues urge a financial review by all organizations.”

The decision is expected to save over 50 million forints ($253,500) this year and about 130 million in 2010. Staff and the 220 inmates held in that facility will be relocated to prisons elsewhere in Budapest.

The BVOP has said it was considering further measures to streamline its facilities across the country in an effort to save jobs as the government’s fiscal cuts to avert a deficit overshoot also curbed its budget for the year.

Hungary’s prisons are still 22 percent overcrowded despite the opening of two new facilities in 2008.

That is well below the glut seen five years ago, when overcrowding reached 60 percent, but earlier decisions to cut costs mean the lack of privacy will not be the only discomfort facing Hungary’s 15,300 inmates.

In March, the BVOP director issued an order limiting the use of hot water for male prisoners to just over two hours a day, advised against the excessive use of water and electricity in prisons and also launched a review of meal rations.

Access to a wide range of television channels may also be reduced.

The BVOP has a budget of about 41 billion forints this year, lower than in 2008, and with a great chunk of that consumed by staff pay and taxes, prisons must cut back on operating costs as the body wants to avoid lay-offs.

That means prison staff must also tighten their belts.

The order issued in March limited extra work hours to a possible minimum, standardized fonts on print material and curbed the use of photocopiers, cut fuel expense reimbursements and ordered carpooling for staff reviewing facilities.

“I have just read that food rations were cut in the U.S., so I guess prisons are struggling everywhere,” BVOP press chief Timea Szalai said.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, editing by Paul Casciato

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