West Virginia profile
West Virginia has an incarceration rate of 731 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in West Virginia and why.
Jump to COVID-19 data.
13,000 people from West Virginia are behind bars
Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in West Virginia is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 34,000 different people are booked into local jails in West Virginia.
Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years
Also see these West Virginia graphs:
This graph excludes people held for state or federal authorities from the total count of people held in West Virginia jails. Because a significant proportion (31%) of the population in West Virginia’s jails is held for the state prison system and the U.S. Marshals Service, this graph likely overstates the convicted population and understates the pre-trial population.
Today, West Virginia’s incarceration rates stand out internationally
In the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.
People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails
See also our detailed graphs about
in West Virginia prisons and jails.
These graphs use U.S. Census data for all people incarcerated in the state, including people in federal and state prisons, local jails, halfway houses, etc. While state and local facilities contain people processed by the West Virginia judicial systems, the federal prisons contain people sent to those facilities by courts all over the country.
For our purposes, the fact that federal prison populations are included in the Census Bureau's data as residents of West Virginia would be an unimportant statistical quirk except for that fact that there are so many federal prisons in West Virginia. In fact, slightly more than half of the incarcerated people that the Census counted in West Virginia were in a federal prison. This has a dramatic impact of the demographics of the incarcerated population. If the Census Bureau's federal prison counts were removed from this analysis, the incarceration rates would be 396 for Whites, 370 for Hispanics, 1911 for Blacks, and 726 for American Indian and Alaska Natives.
West Virginia's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails
Data on COVID-19 in West Virginia jails and prisons
We gave West Virginia a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
- The COVID-19 death rate in West Virginia prisons is almost twice that of the general population.
- West Virginia is one of 15 prison systems that does not have a policy making hand sanitizer widely available or providing free hygiene products — like soap — to incarcerated people.
- West Virginia is one of 15 prison systems that has not yet vaccinated more than 60% of the incarcerated population.
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:
- Our Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic page tracks criminal justice policy responses to the coronavirus all 50 states
- West Virginia was right to suspend all medical copays in prisons at the beginning of the pandemic. The state should make this change permanent
- State prison and jail population data for February 2022. (Previous data is available for October 2021, June 2021, February 2021, December 2020, September 2020, August 2020, and May 2020.) Data availability varies by state.
- Prisons are COVID-19 hotspots, but as of mid-May 2021, only 34% of people in West Virginia prisons had gotten a vaccine
- As of late April 2021, only 52% of corrections staff in West Virginia prisons had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine
- West Virginia prisons were still over 100% capacity in December 2020, several months into the pandemic
- How many COVID-19 cases in West Virginia communities can be linked to outbreaks in correctional facilities? (data from our report Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread)
- As of August 2020, West Virginia prisons were not even requiring staff to wear masks at work
Our other articles about West Virginia