Contributor(s)Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Daily life

The majority of prisoners are held in collective cells and overcrowding is a major issue.

The 2015 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights Vargas and others v. Hungary specifically addressed the issue of overcrowding and courts require that prisons provide a minimum floor space and cell ceiling height for each prisoner. These floor space minimums are 4 m2 for pre-trial prisoners, 3.5 m2 for women and juveniles and 3 m2 for men.

With current levels of overcrowding, these minimum space requirements are far from guaranteed.

All prisoners are provided with bed and mattress. Shortages of bed linens, towels, and clothing have been reported as well as bedbugs. All cells are equipped with chairs, tables and wardrobes. Toilets are not private, curtains are used to separate them from living spaces. Cells often do not have natural light or appropriate ventilation.

Detainees receive 3 meals per day, at least one of which must be hot meal. Food quality is strictly monitored, however the daily meal allocation is just 420 HUF (approximately 1.35 EUR) per detainee. This allocation is around 584 HUF (approximately 1.9 EUR) for certain prisoners including working detainees, juveniles and pregnant women.

Cultural and religious dietary requirements and medical needs are taken into consideration. Prisoners cannot cook in cells. All detainees have access to drinking water.

Most prisons allow detainees to purchase food from outside the prison, but the range is limited. Most prisons have a store with basic food and sanitary products where prisoners can shop once or twice per week.

Occasional complaints are made about food quantity and more frequently, quality of produce and meat.

Shower facilities and conditions vary from institution to institution. Showers are generally communal rather than in cells. Prisoners must be able to shower at least twice per week. Working inmates are able to shower each workday and women daily.

Prison administration provides soap, shampoo, sanitary towels, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Alternatively, prisoners can use their own products. Bed linens and towels are washed biweekly. Convicted prisoners wear uniforms provided by the prison. Pre-trial detainees can wear their own clothes.

In most prisons, detainees can clean their own clothes. Prisoners are responsible for cleaning their cells and collective areas.

Bed-bugs remain a large problem in prisons despite regular treatments by the National Prison Service.

Prisoners undergo a medical screening shortly after admission to prison. Initial screenings are usually completed by a nurse. Prisoners are also examined by a doctor within 72 hours of admission.

Prisoners are able to have medical examinations with doctors in private, away from prison guards if either the prisoner or doctor requests so and if the senior guard supervisor grants permission.

In certain prisons, the victims of alleged mistreatment have been examined by internal medical staff only. This practice has been criticized by the HHC and CPT.

Medical and healthcare services are provided in all prisons. If the proper medical care cannot be ensured within the prison, prisoners are transferred to the Central Prison Hospital for physical illness or the Forensic Psychiatric and Mental Institution for mental illness (See The Sick and Disabled).

In urgent cases where the doctor deems that appropriate care is not available within the prison health system, the prisoner can be transferred to a civil hospital for treatment.

Prisoners generally spend one hour in the prison yard each day. Some prisons, especially those in the countryside, allow for more time. Each prison has a library and most of them provide sporting facilities that can be accessed by prisoners for a fee, 800 HUF (approximately 2.60 euros) per month.

There are a variety of programs run in prisons, many provided by NGOs and churches. The activities available vary depending on the prison. The Vàc prison has been operating an in-house theatre and drama group for a number of years.

Prisoners must work during their sentence and are required to contribute 465 HUF per day (approximately 1.50 euros) per day towards the cost of their detention. Exceptions are made for women who are more than six months pregnant or have just given birth and women who are imprisoned with their children. Those who are deemed unable to work, those under the age of 16 and those who have reached the age of retirement are also exempted from work.

Around 12,000 prisoners are considered capable of working after these exceptions. From this population, around 8,000 (67%) are currently working and 1,654 (14%) are participating in other activities. About 214 prisoners have been allocated to ‘therapeutic work’ to keep them busy.

The nature of the work depends on the prison. Agricultural work in countryside prisons is typical. Many detainees work in companies established by the National Prison Service, which includes a large-scale bakery. In 2015, Hungarian prisoners worked on the construction of a fence to run along the countries border with Serbia, a project aiming to stem the flow of migrants.   

Prisoners must be paid for work, with the current salary approximately 32,000 HUF per month (approximately 103 euros). Labor laws or regulations do not protect work performed by prisoners.

Detainees working

45 %


23% of prisoners are in enrolled in school education and a further 71% percent participated in some form of training in 2015.

Education is mandatory for prisoners under the compulsory school age of 16. Prison staff teachers or contract teachers are charged with this education. School supplies, books and other education costs are covered by the penitentiary system.

Juveniles are exempt from working whilst working towards a qualification and are also not obliged to contribute to the costs of their imprisonment.

Prisoners have access to newspapers if they choose to pay for them. Prisoners might also have a television in the cell provided by the prison administration. Prisoners are not allowed access to the Internet.

Inmates are allowed to freely practice their religion and religious dietary requirements can be accommodated. Prisons have dedicated rooms for religious practices, usually a chapel.

The National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) regularly monitor prisons. In addition, numerous NGOs, organizations and churches participate in the Hungarian prison system.

Prisoners can receive funds from many sources including family members, pensions or a working salary.

Prisoners can file complaints or requests with prison staff and request a hearing with the Governor. Prisoners have the right to appeal to the Governor directly in writing. There is a process for complaints and illiterate prisoners are entitled to support, in practice this support usually comes from other prisoners. Prisons are also required to hold an annual meeting with prisoners.

Bars FM, a prisoner radio station at Vác, was launched by the Speak Out Association in collaboration with the Hungarian Prison Service. The Bars FM broadcast runs for two hours each day and its success has lead to the launch of a second radio station in Győr, Western Hungary.

The radio stations are run by prisoners for prisoners and aim to help prisoners to deal with conflict and prepare for reintegration into society after release.