The communist regime maintained an extensive system of prisons and labor camps, including six institutions for political prisoners, nine for nonpolitical prisoners, and fourteen where political prisoners served their sentences together with regular criminals. Inmates provided the state's vital mining industry with an inexpensive source of labor. In 1985 there were an estimated 32,000 prisoners in the country.
Conditions in the prisons and labor camps were abysmal. Maltreatment as well as physical and mental torture of political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience were common. Sporadic strikes and rebellions in the labor camps, to which the Sigurimi often responded with military force, resulted in the death of more than 1,000 prisoners as well as the execution of many survivors after they were suppressed.
Many political prisoners were purged party officials and their relatives. Reflecting Hoxha's paranoia, some of them were resentenced without trial for allegedly participating in political conspiracies while in prison. Former inmates reported that they managed to survive their incarceration only through the assistance of relatives who brought them food and money.
Under Alia, several amnesties resulted in the release of nearly 20 percent of the large prison and labor-camp population, although most of those released were prisoners over the age of sixty who had already served long terms. In 1991, for example, the APL attempted to improve its popularity by pushing a sweeping amnesty law for political prisoners through the communistdominated People's Assembly, and all such prisoners were freed by the middle of the year. The amnesty law provided for the rehabilitation of those incarcerated for political crimes, but not persons convicted of terrorist acts that resulted in deaths or other serious consequences. Specifically, it applied to persons sentenced for agitation and propaganda against the state; participation in illegal political organizations, meetings, or demonstrations; failure to report crimes against the state; slandering or insulting the state; and absence without leave or desertion from military service. It provided for material compensation, including lost wages or pensions, for time spent in prison; for preferential access to housing, education, and employment; and gave compensatory damages to the families of political prisoners who were executed or who died in detention without trial. Finally, it established a commission that included members of the new, independent Association of Former Political Prisoners to investigate atrocities carried out by the state.
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