Despite its small population, rural geography, old-fashioned values and a reputation as a law-abiding state, West Virginia's prison population rose at an astounding rate in 2006, according to the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

It is definitely a growth industry, paid for by taxpayers.

While the U.S. prison population increased less than 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, the Mountain State's incarceration rate spiked around 8 percent.

The only other state that came close was Ohio's 7.2 percent.

Kentucky had only a 1.7 percent growth in its prison population, while Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia saw respective increases of 2.7, 4.8 and 3.8 percent.

According to the report, West Virginia's incarceration rate grew by an average annual rate of 6.6 percent each year between 2000 and 2005.

The state's prison population went from 3,856 at the end of 2000 to 5,733 six years later.

For the same period, West Virginia was also ahead of a nationwide increase in the percentage of females behind bars. Nationally, the female prison population jumped 4.5 percent. West Virginia's showed a 19.6 percent growth.

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubinstein says the high numbers are merely indicative of the quality of the state's judicial system from prosecutors and judges to law enforcement officers.

Still, the Mountain State has one of the lowest crime rates in the US.

WV counties continue to struggle with paying for prisoners, a line item that makes a big dent on budgets.

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