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Korea, North Punishment and the Penal System
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
    << Back to Korea, North National Security

    Punishment for criminal behavior is determined by both the type of crime--political or nonpolitical--and the status of the individual. The underlying philosophy of punishment reflects both Marxist influences and Confucian moral precepts. According to the 1950 penal code, the purpose of punishment is explicitly Marxist: to suppress class enemies, educate the population in the spirit of "socialist patriotism," and reeducate and punish individuals for crimes stemming from "capitalist" thinking. However, the code's ambiguity, the clear official preference for rehabilitating individuals through a combination of punishment and reeducation, and additional severity for crimes against the state or family reflect the lack of distinction among politics, morality, and law in neo-Confucian thought.

    Penalties for various types of crimes range from imprisonment, forced labor, banishment to remote areas, forfeiture of property, fines, loss of privileges or work status, and reeducation, to death. With the exception of political criminals, the objective is to return a reformed individual to an active societal role.

    There are indications that criminal law is applied differentially. An accused person's class and category can have a substantial effect on treatment meted out by the justice system. The severity of punishment for common crimes such as rape, robbery, and homicide apparently is influenced by such considerations. There also is considerable leeway in the classification of crime; a robbery can be classified as either a common crime with minor punishment or a political-economic crime with far harsher punishment. The classification of crimes also is open to political considerations.

    There apparently are several types of detention camps for convicted prisoners. Political criminals are sent to separate concentration camps managed by the State Security Department. Twelve such camps were reported to exist in 1991, holding between 100,000 and 150,000 prisoners and covering some 1,200 square kilometers. They are located in remote, isolated areas at Tongsin and H ich'n in Chagang Province; Onsng, Hoeryng, and Kyngsng in North Hamgyng Province; Tksng, Chongpyng, and Yodk in South Hamgyng Province; Yngbyn and Yongch'n in North P'yngan Province, and Kaech'n and Pukch'ang in South P'yngan Province. Convicted prisoners and their families are sent to these camps, where they are prohibited from marrying, required to grow their own food, and cut off from external communication (which was apparently once allowed). Detainees are classified as antiparty factionalists, antirevolutionary elements, or those opposed to Kim Jong Il's succession. There is conflicting information concerning whether individuals sent to these camps ever reenter society.

    A second set of prisons, or camps, is concerned with more traditional punishment and rehabilitation. Prisoners sent to these camps can reenter society after serving their sentences. Among such camps are prisons, prison labor centers, travel violation centers, and sanatoriums. The basic prison is located at the city or province level; some seventeen of these prisons were identified in 1991. They are managed by the Ministry of Public Security for the incarceration of "normal" criminals.

    Other types of prisons also exist. Labor prisons are found at the city or province level. Adult and youth centers house those convicted of normal criminal violations. There apparently are separate facilities for the incarceration of those who have attempted to violate travel restrictions or leave the country illegally. It is unclear, however, if these are in fact separate centers, or if those convicted of travel violations are placed in normal prisons. Lastly, minor political or ideological offenders or persons with religious convictions may be sent to sanatoriums where the offenses are treated as symptoms of mental disease. North Korean officials deny the existence of these camps, although they do admit to the existence of "education centers" for people who "commit crimes by mistake."

    Data as of June 1993

    NOTE: The information regarding Korea, North on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Korea, North Punishment and the Penal System information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Korea, North Punishment and the Penal System should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 12-Nov-04
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