CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's spending on prisoner health care shot up 38 percent between 2001 and 2008, but the state still ranks 36th out of 44 states included in a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Charleston Daily Mail reported that West Virginia's health-care costs rose from $15.7 million to $21.7 million during the period.
But many other states reported much sharper increases. New Hampshire, for example, saw a 379 percent increase, from $5.4 million to $25.8 million. California's costs doubled to about $1.98 billion.
Researchers identified three main reasons for the nationwide increase in prison health-care costs: growing prison populations, aging prisoners and the overall rise in health-care costs. The number of prisoners 55 or older nationwide increased 94 percent from 2001 to 2008.
"Like older Americans outside prison, older inmates are more likely to have physical and mental illnesses," said Maria Schiff, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' project. That's forcing some states to increase training requirements for staff, increase medical services or even build special housing units.
West Virginia Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said about 12 percent of West Virginia 6,800 prisoners are 55 or older -- up from 7 percent a decade ago.
But he says West Virginia's rising costs are mainly attributable to the growing volume of inmates. Overcrowding of the state's prisons and jails has long been a problem for West Virginia legislators and corrections officials.