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Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman campaigning for the U.S. Senate on May 10, 2022, in Greensburg, Pa. (AP) Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman campaigning for the U.S. Senate on May 10, 2022, in Greensburg, Pa. (AP)

Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman campaigning for the U.S. Senate on May 10, 2022, in Greensburg, Pa. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 21, 2022

In Pennsylvania Senate race, Mehmet Oz distorts John Fetterman’s stance on releasing prison inmates

If Your Time is short

  • Fetterman has not called for releasing one-third of dangerous criminals.

  • In 2020, he said he agreed with what he said was a comment by Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary that the state’s prison population could be reduced by one-third without a risk to public safety. Fetterman said: ”We’re actively trying to audit our population to identify those inmates that are most deserving and does it make sense.”

Editor's note, Aug. 19, 2022: Fox News posted a story on Aug. 17 that linked to a video that PolitiFact had not seen when we originally published this fact-check. In the video, posted on YouTube Oct. 7, 2020, Fetterman was asked about reducing the number of prison inmates in Pennsylvania age 50 and over. Fetterman said, "We’re actively trying to audit our population to identify those inmates that are most deserving and does it make sense." He said he agreed with a statement he attributed to the state’s then-corrections secretary that "we could reduce our prison population by a third and not make anyone less safe in Pennsylvania." This story has been updated to include information about Fetterman’s comments in the video. Fetterman did not say he supported releasing one-third of "dangerous criminals." Our rating remains unchanged.

Attacking his election opponent as "crazier than you think," Mehmet Oz tweeted an ad to his 3.8 million Twitter followers that made this claim:

"John Fetterman wants to release one-third of dangerous criminals back into our communities."

Oz, a physician and former TV talk show host, is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. Fetterman, a Democrat, is the state’s lieutenant governor. The race, rated by campaign watchers as "tilts Republican" and a toss-up, could help decide which party controls the Senate, which is now split 50-50.

Fetterman has touted work to increase the number of pardons issued to prison inmates in Pennsylvania and has called for reducing the prison population in other ways, but we did not find an instance of Fetterman calling for the release of one-third of dangerous criminals.

In 2020, Fetterman twice highlighted what he said was a comment by Pennsylvania’s then-corrections secretary that the state could reduce its prison population by one-third without risking public safety. 

Two Fetterman tweets

Oz tweeted his ad on July 18, the same day his team announced the ad was part of a "Liberal-O-Meter" campaign to highlight Fetterman’s "radical policies and crazy statements." 

It’s not the first time he has made the claim. Oz said in a June 13 speech that Fetterman said, "We should release one-third of all inmates, including violent offenders." And in a video ad published on YouTube July 14, Oz said Fetterman "supports releasing one-third of the prison population."

To back up the claim, Oz’s campaign referred PolitiFact to a June 22 article in the conservative-leaning Daily Caller and to two Fetterman tweets cited in the article. The article said Fetterman twice in 2020 "appeared to endorse" releasing one-third of the state’s prison population. 

In May 2020, Fetterman tweeted: "PA’s Correction Secretary has said: ‘We could reduce our prison population by 1/3 and not make anyone less safe.’" And in July 2020, he tweeted: "Our Corrections Secretary has said we could" release "1/3 of our inmates and not make anyone less safe. What if we directed those savings into our state schools?" 

The corrections secretary was John Wetzel, who was appointed to the post in 2011 by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. In announcing in September 2021 that Wetzel would leave the post, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, praised Wetzel for reducing the state’s prison population.

PolitiFact searched Google, the Nexis news archive, and Wetzel’s Twitter account, and did not find an instance in which Wetzel made such a statement, so we asked Fetterman’s campaign about the Wetzel remarks. Spokesperson Joe Calvello responded that the campaign could not find the exact quote, but that Wetzel has made similar comments, such as in 2021, when Wetzel advocated for medical parole for elderly inmates, saying most who would be eligible "are incapacitated and not a security threat."

Calvello said that Fetterman was not expressing an opinion on releasing one-third of its inmates but was citing Wetzel’s comments to highlight the cost of Pennsylvania’s prison system. 

We tried to reach Wetzel via LinkedIn and his consultant agency on Facebook, but got no reply.

On Aug. 17, Fox News posted a story that linked to a video from an Oct. 7, 2020, panel discussion on reducing incarceration. In that video, Celeste Trusty of the Families Against Mandatory Minimums advocacy group asked Fetterman about reducing the number of prison inmates in Pennsylvania age 50 and over. 

Fetterman said, "We’re actively trying to audit our population to identify those inmates that are most deserving and does it make sense." He said he agreed with a statement he attributed to Wetzel that "we could reduce our prison population by a third and not make anyone less safe in Pennsylvania."

Fetterman backs "second chances"

Fetterman has called for "second chances" for offenders, such as eliminating mandatory life-without-parole sentences for certain murder convictions and for other criminal justice reforms.

Fetterman’s campaign website includes one video promoting his record as lieutenant governor in increasing pardons for prison inmates in Pennsylvania; in the other video, Fetterman calls for overhauling the criminal justice system, saying, "There are individuals that, quite frankly, don’t need to be in prison, it doesn’t make anyone more safe."

Pennsylvania ranked 25th among states in the number of people incarcerated in state prisons per 100,000 residents, based on 2019 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that works to minimize imprisonment.

Our ruling

Oz said Fetterman wants to release one-third of dangerous criminals back into our communities."

Fetterman has not called for releasing one-third of "dangerous criminals." In 2020, he said he agreed with what he said was a comment by Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary that the state’s prison population could be reduced by one-third — without a risk to public safety.

Oz’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

RELATED: Fact-checking ads in the 2022 election campaigns

RELATED: Pennsylvania fact-checks

Our Sources

Twitter, Mehmet Oz tweet, July 18, 2022

Twitter, Mehmet Oz tweets, accessed July 19, 2022

Email, Mehmet Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick, July 19, 2022

Email, John Fetterman campaign spokesperson Joe Calvello, July 19, 2022

Mehmet Oz campaign, "How Crazy is John Fetterman?", July 18, 2022

The Daily Caller, "Pennsylvania Dem Senate Candidate Sought To Empty Prisons While In Power, Records Show," June 22, 2022

Twitter, John Fetterman tweet, May 30, 2020

Twitter, John Fetterman tweet, July 20, 2020

WESA-FM, "Weeks after GOP victory, Oz turns to November during South Hills stop," June 14, 2022

YouTube, Mehmet Oz "Dr. Oz Welcomes John Fetterman to Campaign Trail" video, July 14, 2022

National Republican Senatorial Committee, "Fetterman’s Soft-On-Crime Record, Part II: Releasing One Third of Pennsylvania’s Prisoners," June 22, 2022

Twitter, National Republican Senatorial Committee tweet and video, March 9, 2022

Medium, "I believe in the power of a second chance," April 29, 2021

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Pennsylvania to open unit for inmates with dementia at Rockview prison," July 9, 2021

Pennsylvania Capital-Star, "Pa.’s long-serving prisons chief, John E. Wetzel, is leaving, Wolf admin says," Sept. 13, 2021

Fox News, "Dem Senate candidate Fetterman says ‘I agree with’ cutting prison population by one-third in unearthed clip," Aug. 17, 2022

YouTube, FAMM Video "The Searchlight Series: Second Chances: Pathways Forward in Pennsylvania" post (29:20), Oct. 7, 2020

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In Pennsylvania Senate race, Mehmet Oz distorts John Fetterman’s stance on releasing prison inmates

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