NGO, refugee, and press reports indicated that there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. Witness to Transformation described four main types of prison and detention facilities: kwan-li-so, political penal-labor camps; kyo-hwa-so, correctional or reeducation centers; jip-kyul-so, collection centers for low-level criminals; and ro-dong-dan-ryeon-dae, labor training centers. Based on satellite imagery and defector testimony, one kwan-li-so camp, Camp 22, was estimated to be 31 miles long and 25 miles wide and hold 50,000 inmates. Defectors claimed the kwan-li-so camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. Kwan-li-so penal-labor camps are administered by the Ministry of State Security (MSS); kyo-hwa-so reeducation centers are administered by the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS). During the year an NGO reported that five kwan-li-so facilities remained under the command of the MSS, including Kaecheon (Camp14) in South Pyongan Province, Yoduk (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province, Hwasung (Camp 16), Chongjin (Camp 25), and Hoiryeong (Camp 22) in North Hamkyung Province. The same NGO reported the police began to dismantle the sixth facility, Bukchang (Camp 18) in South Pyongan Province, in 2006 and it was unclear if the camp remained in operation in 2011.
Reports indicated that those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes were typically sent to reeducation prisons where prisoners were subjected to intense forced labor. Those who were considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly were sent to political prison camps indefinitely. In many cases family members were also detained if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.
Reports indicated that conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuses occurred. Many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system were not expected to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Press reports and Witness to Transformation included defector accounts of public executions in political prison camps. According to refugees, in some places of detention, prisoners received little or no food and were denied medical care. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. An NGO reported that one reeducation center was so crowded that prisoners were forced to sleep on top of each other or sitting up. The same NGO reported that guards at a labor camp stole food brought for inmates by their family members. Based on interviews with 15 former detainees at the Yoduk political prison, an Amnesty International report estimated that 40-percent of inmates died of malnutrition.
The South Korean and international press reported that kyo-hwa-so, or labor rehabilitation camps, hold populations of up to 10,000 political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.
Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the kwan-li-so camps ranged between 130,000-200,000. In July the ROK think tank Database Center on North Korean Human Rights reported that 138,000 people were being held in DPRK detention centers, with between 130,500 and 131,000 held in five active political prison camps, possibly 200-300 in the Bukchang facility, and the rest dispersed in more than 182 other locations. NGO and press reports estimated that there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.
Information on the number of women and juvenile prisoners was not available. Anecdotal reports from the Database Center on North Korean Human Rights indicated that in some prisons women were held in separate units from men, but no information was available on whether conditions varied for women. One NGO reported that political prisoners sent to punishment facilities were subject to torture without consideration of their gender.
One NGO reported that women make up the majority of prisoners in ro-dong dan-ryeon-dae, or labor-training centers; the majority of prisoners in these facilities were repatriated from China.
Under the criminal procedure law, a criminal case is dismissed in the case of a crime committed by a person under 14 years of age, and under Article 62 public education is applied in case of a crime committed by a person above 14 and under 17 years of age.
No information was available indicating whether prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years defectors reported that Christian inmates were subjected to harsher punishment if their faith was made public. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. It is also not known whether results of investigations were made public. There was no information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. Neither the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK nor the UN special rapporteur on torture have been allowed to independently access conditions inside the country.
The government did not permit human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities. There was no information on whether there were ombudsmen to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees, consider such matters as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, alleviate inhumane overcrowding, address the status and circumstances of confinement of juvenile offenders, improve the administration of pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures, or ensure that prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offense.