As early as 1971, West Virginia’s crime rate was the lowest in the nation, at 1,401.4 crimes per 100,000 people. Although the national crime rate peaked in 1980 and has since fallen substantially, West Virginia still had the lowest rate in the nation until 1998. That year, the crime rate reached 2,547.2 crimes per 100,000 people, second-lowest in the nation. Since then West Virginia’s crime rate has steadily increased to 3,037 crimes per 100,000. In 2010, the state had the 20th-lowest crime rate in the country, still below the national rate.
West Virginia’s low crime rate is generally attributed to the rural nature of the state. Thirty-two percent of West Virginians live in a rural jurisdiction, as compared to 10 percent of the population nationwide. Other elements, including population density, age demographics, the mobility of the population, the jurisdiction’s infrastructure, economic conditions, cultural factors, and the degree of support for law enforcement also contribute to the absence or presence of crime in a community. Certainly, West Virginia’s high average age and low population density are among the factors contributing to the low crime rate in the state.
Nearly 90 percent of West Virginia crimes are nonviolent, a portion that hasn’t changed much since 1961, although the number of both violent and nonviolent crimes has increased. The most common crime in the state is larceny-theft, accounting for more than 60 percent of offenses in 2009. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter, the least frequent crime in West Virginia, was committed at a rate of 4.9 per 100,000 in 2009, down from a peak 7.4 in 1975. Eighty percent of crimes in West Virginia occur in urban jurisdictions. Drug offenses are low in West Virginia, compared to other places.
West Virginia also has one of the lower incarceration rates in the nation. In 2010, West Virginia had the 18th-lowest incarceration rate, with 363 prisoners with a sentence of more than one year per 100,000 residents. The state also had one of the lowest prisoner populations in the nation, with 6,681 prisoners incarcerated for a sentence of one year or more. However, the state’s prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2009, which was the highest growth rate for any state in the nation. Criminal justice professionals and policy makers are examining the state’s sentencing practices as they analyze this troubling increase in incarcerations.
Although the state crime rate has gradually risen against the backdrop of sharply falling national rates, West Virginia at the beginning of the 21st century has among the lowest crime rates, lowest incarceration rates, and lowest prisoner populations in the country. All things considered, our state remains among the very safest places to live and raise a family.
This Article was written by Brad Douglas
Last Revised on February 01, 2012
FBI-Uniform Crime Report Statistics. 1960-2003.
Harrison, Paige M. & Allen J. Beck. "Prisoners in 2001," . Bureau of Criminal Justice Services, 7/1/2002.