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Repression and punishment in North Korea: survey evidence of prison camp experiences


  • Noland, Marcus
  • Haggard, Stephan


The penal system has played a central role in the North Korean government’s response to the country’s profound economic and social changes. Two refugee surveys—one conducted in China, one in South Korea—document its changing role. The regime disproportionately targets politically suspect individuals, particularly those involved in market-oriented economic activities. Levels of violence and deprivation do not appear to differ substantially between the infamous political prison camps, penitentiaries for felons, and labor camps used to incarcerate individuals for misdemeanors, including economic crimes. Substantial numbers of those incarcerated report experiencing deprivation with respect to food as well as public executions and other forms of violence. This repression appears to work; despite substantial cynicism about the North Korean system, refugees do not report signs of collective action aimed at confronting the regime. Such a system may also reflect ulterior motives. High levels of discretion with respect to arrest and sentencing and very high costs of detention, arrest and incarceration encourage bribery; the more arbitrary and painful the experience with the penal system, the easier it is for officials to extort money for avoiding it. These characteristics not only promote regime maintenance through intimidation, but may facilitate predatory corruption as well.

Suggested Citation

  • Noland, Marcus & Haggard, Stephan, 2009. "Repression and punishment in North Korea: survey evidence of prison camp experiences," MPRA Paper 17705, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:17705

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Haggard, Stephan & Noland, Marcus, 2010. "Reform from below: Behavioral and institutional change in North Korea," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 133-152, February.
    2. Haggard, Stephan & Noland, Marcus, 2009. "Famine in North Korea Redux?," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 384-395, September.
    3. Marcus Noland, 2000. "Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 94.
    4. Chang, Yoonok & Haggard, Stephan & Noland, Marcus, 2009. "Exit polls: Refugee assessments of North Korea's transition," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 144-150, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Noland, Marcus & Haggard, Stephan, 2010. "Political attitudes under repression: evidence from North Korean refugees," MPRA Paper 21713, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland, 2010. "The Winter of Their Discontent: Pyongyang Attacks the Market," Policy Briefs PB10-1, Peterson Institute for International Economics.

    More about this item


    North Korea; corruption; prison camps; refugees;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • P37 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions - - - Legal
    • P3 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions

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