By Caroline Gluck in Seoul
The South Korean Government is inviting public applications to bid for the construction and running of the country's first private prison.
The justice ministry is making a formal presentation on Tuesday to groups and businesses which have expressed interest in getting involved in the project.
The ministry said it had decided to push ahead with the pilot project because of prison overcrowding.
The private prison could open by 2003.
The facility will accommodate between 300 and 500 inmates and is likely to cost around $23m to build. When completed, running costs will be funded by the government.
Religion or profits
While the ministry is already embarking on a prison-building programme itself, it is working under tight budget constraints. Around six organisations, including businesses, have expressed interest in bidding for the first private prison licence.
Religious groups are also reported to be preparing bids, and that has worried some who are concerned that it could infringe on inmates' religious freedom. Others fear private operators are more likely to focus on making profits rather than rehabilitation.
The deadline for bidding is in December, and the justice ministry will announce its selection early next year.
The pilot operation will be carefully monitored, but if successful, the government is likely to grant more licences.
Private prisons have already been established in countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, but this prison, when completed, will be the first in Asia.