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Working Paper 10-2

Economic Crime and Punishment in North Korea

by Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego
and Marcus Noland, Peterson Institute for International Economics

March 2010

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The penal system has played a central role in the North Korean government's response to the country's profound economic and social changes. As the informal market economy has expanded, so have the scope of economic crimes. Two refugee surveys—one conducted in China, one in South Korea—document that the regime disproportionately targets politically suspect groups, and 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 a growing number of economic crimes. 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.


RELATED LINKS

Book: Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea January 2011

Peterson Perspective: North Korea's Immunity to Outside Pressure: Part I December 12, 2012

Policy Brief 10-1: The Winter of Their Discontent: Pyongyang Attacks the Market January 2010

Paper: FTAs and the Future of US-Korean Trade Relations November 2009

Paper: Implementing the KORUS FTA: Key Challenges and Policy Proposals February 2008

Policy Brief 08-6: North Korea on the Precipice of Famine May 2008

Policy Brief 07-7: The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement: A Summary Assessment August 2007

Policy Brief 06-4: Negotiating the Korea–United States Free Trade Agreement June 2006

Working Paper 07-7: North Korea’s External Economic Relations August 2007

Book: Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas June 2000

Book: Free Trade Between Korea and the United States? April 2001

Working Paper 08-4: Migration Experiences of North Korean Refugees: Survey Evidence from China March 2008