Punishment and the Penal System
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
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