Democrat nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, said the state should have been freeing criminals “all along” after it began releasing thousands of inmates during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
As Gov. Tom Wolfe’s (D) office noted, the state released more than 8,300 prisoners, or nearly 20 percent of the inmate population, from March 2020 – October 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic. While speaking on a recently unearthed virtual call, which was published to YouTube by the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) in December 2020, Fetterman expressed that the state government “should have already been doing this all along.”
“There are a lot of thoughtful people that have turned their lives around, they have accepted responsibility, and, or they don’t even belong there as Naomi’s case was, and it’s so arbitrary, and it’s so hard. It’s tragic,” said Fetterman, referring to Naomi Blunt Wilson, who was present for the meeting. Her life sentence was commuted in 2019 after a recommendation to Wolfe from the Board of Pardons, which Fetterman chairs as lieutenant governor.
“So COVID has, I think, exacerbated that. But it hasn’t changed my perspective all that much, quite frankly, because we should have already been doing this all along, and that’s why we have the second highest population, second only to Florida,” Fetterman continued.
In March of 2020, the month the coronavirus pandemic began to rock the United States, there were over 45,000 inmates in Pennsylvania prisons, state data shows. In October 2021, Wolfe boasted in a press release that upwards of 8,300 inmates were released over the course of the pandemic, bringing the state’s prison population down to 36,743, its lowest level since 2001.
The release noted:
During the pandemic, DOC [Department of Corrections] staff has expedited furloughs of parolees from centers to home plans, coordinated with the parole board to maximize parole releases, reviewed parole detainers for those in county jails and state prisons, expedited the release process for reentrants with a pending approved home plan, and implemented a temporary reprieve program – all with the goal of keeping staff, incarcerated population, and the community safe.
During the 2020 virtual meeting posted by FAMM, Celeste Trusty, who is the Board of Pardons secretary and considers convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal her “buddy,” noted that Fetterman worked to achieve commutations for individuals who were out on reprieve and “would have had to return to prison after the disaster declaration was over.” She asked Fetterman to elaborate on the process.
“This is a very refined product, so to speak,” Fetterman said. “These are people that don’t need to come back, and we really need to establish a benchmark where it’s like, ‘why are we doing this?’ We are in a pandemic warehousing people that we don’t need to have in prison.”
While criminals were released through a number of avenues during the pandemic, Fetterman’s recommendations for commuted sentences from the Board of Pardons skyrocketed under his chairmanship. Since he assumed the lieutenant governorship in 2019, the board has recommended at least 46 commutations for convicts facing life sentences, as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Julia Terruso pointed out in May.
“That’s compared with just six in Wolf’s first term, none under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s one term, and only five during former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s eight years in office,” she noted.
Moreover, Fetterman has previously expressed support for emptying Pennsylvania’s prisons by one-third, asserting that it would “not make anyone less safe.”
While appearing on Sirius XM’s Breitbart News Saturday over the weekend, Fetterman’s Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz asserted the Democrat “seems to value the positions of the criminals above the innocent.”