The mass internment of civilians by military or police forces for indefinite periods of time and under inhumane conditions characterizes concentration camps and gulags. Many prisoners serve out their sentences in reform through labour camps, whose function is not fully explained in the legal code. Prisoners may even be forbidden to return home after they are released and must remain in the area, thus amounting to a form of internal exile.
The Spaniards detained Cuban civilians in the rebellion of 1895. The British employed civilian internment centres in the Boer War in 1901. As Home Secretary in 1913, Winston Churchill explored the possibility of using labour camps to incarcerate the feeble-minded, which were defined to include over 20,000 convicted criminals, especially second offenders. The Russian government, after the 1917 revolution, sent tens of thousands of persons to the concentration camps of Tambor province, the Solvetsky Islands, and the Kolyma - the country of Gulag. In 1918, under Lenin, the waves of civilian detentions began, and according to Solzhenitsyn, millions were sent to the Gulag country under Stalin in 1929-1930, again in the infamous purges of 1934-38, and yet again in the 1950s. The Gulag archipelago held six million political prisoners at one time in the 1930s and 1940s; the total who died in the Gulag from 1918 to the present may be two to four times this number. In just 12 years, between 1933 and 1945. Nazi Germany's camps systematically killed an estimated 20 to 26 million, over half of all those who were detained. Total concentration camp or gulag deaths of political prisoners exceeds 50 million persons in this century.
Political prisoners are detained en masse in South Africa, Cuba and the USSR. Refugee camp conditions, as in Lebanon, assume the features of mass detention. In China in 1989 it was estimated that some of the labour camps held up to 40,000 inmates together with their families, juvenile offenders and some freed workers who were confined to the region.
There were about 220 labour camps established in the Czech lands during World War II. Many of them were overcrowded, such as the Lety camp, designed to hold 300 people in the summer and 200 in the winter, that held 900 men, women and children at peak times. The guards were under signed orders to shoot anyone attempting to escape or disobeying an order. The inmates, including children, were forced to work from dawn to dusk in stone quarries, on road construction and cutting wood.