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. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwan-li-so, political penal-labor camps; kyo-hwa-so, correctional or reeducation centers; kyo-yang-so, labor-reform centers; jip-kyul-so, collection centers for low-level criminals; ro-dong-dan-ryeon-dae, labor-training centers; and ku-ryu-jang or ka-mok, interrogation facilities or jails. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) administered kwan-li-so penal-labor camps; either the MSS or the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) administered the other detention centers.
Reports indicated there were between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwan-li-so. Defectors claimed the kwan-li-so camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported that five kwan-li-so facilities remained in operation, including Kaecheon (Camp 14) in South Pyongan Province with an estimated 50,000 inmates, Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province with an estimated 10,500 inmates, Hwasung (Camp 16) with an estimated 15,000 inmates, Chongjin (Camp 25) with an estimated 5,000 inmates, and a relocated facility in Kaecheon (Camp 18, previously located in Bukchang) with an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 inmates.
Based on satellite imagery and defector testimony, observers estimated Camp 22 to be 31 miles long and 25 miles wide. An August report from the HRNK titled North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Changes in the Prison Camps indicated that Camp 22 was closed. Citing satellite imagery analysis on Camp 22, the HRNK report concluded that the prison camp had been razed, the remaining guard posts and towers were abandoned, and the prisoners and guards had been transferred elsewhere. Defectors reported that as many as 8,000 prisoners may have been transferred to other camps before the camp closed. Human rights activists estimated that nearly 20,000 individuals may have died of starvation if defector reports and satellite imagery were accurate.
A March Amnesty International report also noted an increased security perimeter adjacent to Camp 14.
Total control zones reportedly existed in kwan-li-so political penal-labor camps, where incarceration is for life, and “re-revolutionizing zones” from which prisoners may be released. Hidden Gulag reported that there had been no known releases from Yodok since 2009.
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 sentenced to indefinite terms in political prison camps. 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. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors 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. The ROK and international press reported that kyo-hwa-so, or labor-rehabilitation camps, held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.
Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 200,000. The 2013 KINU White Paper reported that between 80,000 and 120,000 individuals were held in five active political-prison camps, adding that the decrease in the number of inmates was the result of natural reduction from harsh circumstances rather than changes in government policy. NGO and press reports estimated 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 NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights indicated that in some prisons women were held in separate units from men and were often subjected to sexual abuse. One NGO reported that political prisoners sent to punishment facilities were subjected to torture without consideration of their gender.
NGOs reported that women made up the majority of prisoners in ro-dong-danryeon-dae; 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, but little information was available regarding how this law was actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.
Administration: 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, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. No information on recordkeeping processes or alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders was publicly available.
Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The DPRK did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK or the UN Commission of Inquiry access into the country to assess prison conditions.
The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.