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.
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.
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.
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.
We gave West Virginia a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources: