Having spent one night in a Hungarian public hospital piqued my curiosity about what it would be like to spend some quality time in a Hungarian prison.
As for the hospital stay, the surgeon was excellent and although my admitting nurse was not in possession of all her teeth, I could not have asked for better, more compassionate care.
The anesthesiologist was the epitome of professional: he refused to succumb to any one of my attempts at humour but instead insisted on getting all the information he needed to properly calculate how much of his magic potion to administer in order to keep me alive, while surfing on the crest of death.
Once in the operating room, I heard the anesthesiologist giving instructions to his assistant: I assume instructing when and how much of each ingredient in his magic potion to dispatch on its journey to my veins. For a second it reminded me of the procedure for lethal injection. However, before I could dwell on it much more, I was gone.
Turn up the heat
The next thing I knew I was being wheeled into my room where the temperature had been set to that of central Congo. Coming from a cold climate (Canada), in my mind this temperature setting fell under the auspices of torture or, at the very least, cruel and unusual punishment.
I wondered if the high cost of this extreme heating was reason the hospital could not afford to supply cutlery or toilet paper.
Banished to this room for a sleepless night gave me time to ponder the state of Hungarian prisons. After all, if this was how law-abiding patients were accommodated, I wondered what convicted criminals could expect in their abodes.
Lock in revenue sources
Prisons got me thinking. I don’t know about you but I often try to think of creative ways Hungary could improve its economy. Just look at what we’re seeing: bauMax is considering leaving Hungary. Other DIY retailers have already made that decision. Raiffeisen bank is threatening to leave. The list goes on and the S&P downgrades continue. It feels like the economic equivalent of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.
One solution: prisons. There is big money in prisons and in America alone they are being privatised at an astonishing rate.
Recently, Colorado legalised possession of marijuana. There were lobbying groups opposed and one would logically think alcohol and beer producers would be ones strongly opposing. But no. It was privatised prisons and their suppliers.
In fact, privatised prisons in the US have even garnered their own name: the “Prison-industrial complex”.
Granted, Hungarian prisons are overcrowded. At least they were in 2009. The latest numbers I could find came from a Reuters report stating there was 22 per cent overcrowding despite Hungary opening two new facilities in 2008. However, this was an improvement over 2003 when there was 60 per cent overcrowding.
Hospital funding that’s almost criminal
It does beg the question: why build new prisons when you need new hospitals? Yes, hospitals cost more to build than prisons. This is where the numbers in outsourcing opportunities come in to play. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, between US federal, state and local authorities it costs the US taxpayer USD 75 billion annually to incarcerate prisoners (2008).
America tops the list of countries with the largest number of its population per 100,000 behind bars. In 2008 there were 2,418,352 people in rooms where the lock is on the wrong side of the door.
If Hungary could sell the US outsourcing for incarceration at a 50 per cent savings and get even just 10 per cent of the US prisoners, that would equate to approximately HUF 231,250 billion in revenue. Surely Hungary could undercut the US cost of incarceration.
Some might suggest this idea would violate the rapists’, murderers’, armed robbers’ and fraudster’s US constitutional rights. But I think it is entirely possible to get many prisoners to agree to this program voluntarily.
Think about it: prison populations usually have a disproportionate number of people who aren’t the brightest bulbs on the tree. They could be sold on the idea. Just think of the selling messages. “You get to go to Europe!”, “You get to meet new people!”, “You get to experience a new culture”. And my favourite, “You get to learn a new language”.
Only after they sign on the dotted line do you inform them they have to bring their own toilet paper. After all, if you don’t give it to patients why would you give it to prisoners?
In Canada, despite a decrease in crime rates, the government is planning on building new prisons. This can mean only one of two things: either the government has something up its sleeve that would cause people to take to the streets, break the law and subsequently end up in prison, or they are one step ahead of Hungary and are planning on being an outsource resource to a profitable and growing business.
Hungary should get in the game. Retrofit the decrepit hospitals to accommodate foreign pay-as-you-go prisoners and use that revenue to build hospitals and maybe even help reduce the deficit. You can make HUF 231 billion go a long way.
A crazy idea, you say? I give you Australia.
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