In the 200-page report, to be released at a conference in Washington, the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea called for dismantling the "gulag system."
The report said the vast network of penal and forced labor institutions detains 150,000-200,000 people for reasons not permitted by international law.
The system, the human rights group said in a news release, "has turned into a vast network of detention facilities intended to punish those perceived as being 'wrong thinkers,' 'wrong-doers' or with 'wrong associations' or belonging to the 'wrong political class' or religious persuasion."
The report said the system has been in existence about 50 years in a country that has claimed it holds no political prisoners.
Entire families can be incarcerated, including children and grandparents, for the "political crimes" of other family members, the report said.
Forced abortions are regularly performed on women prisoners who illegally cross into China, become pregnant by Chinese men and are forcibly repatriated to North Korea, and infanticide is practiced when the pregnancy is advanced, the report said.
The report, based on testimony of 60 former North Korean prisoners and guards, said political penal labor colonies imprison people without judicial process who are subjected to forced labor and mostly lifetime sentences in mining, logging or agriculture, and the colonies have "exorbitant rates of deaths in detention" as a result of "systemic and severe mistreatment," torture, executions and "induced malnutrition."
In long-term, felony-level penitentiaries, the report noted high death rates among detainees.
The report also detailed "brutal interrogation, severe punishment and forced labor" of North Koreans forcibly repatriated from China.
The reports calls for immediate access to prison camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Program and recommends an international commission investigate North Korea's violations of international criminal law. The human rights group said "massive crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in North Korea."