Reforming Pennsylvania’s probation laws

Most advocates and legislators agree that any discussion of criminal justice reform must begin first with comprehensive changes to the state’s probation system.

Probation and parole is intended to be a channel out of the criminal justice system, but instead they often lead to a life in limbo, where a minor infraction can lead a person straight back to lock up.

More than 45 thousand individuals are incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s correctional facilities, many of whom will be either paroled or serve probation upon their release. During that time, their conduct and lives are supervised. They must adhere to specific rules of conduct and failing to can result in a return to incarceration. Infractions can include missed appointments or failing a drug screening. About half of all parolees successfully complete parole.

Imprisoning people for minor violations is expensive; Pennsylvania spends over $100 million a year for probation and parole violations.

Appearing on Smart Talk Monday to discuss two legislative proposals for probation reform are Republican state Representative Sheryl Delozier of Cumberland County and Democratic state Senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier
Republican state Representative Sheryl Delozier of Cumberland County, appears on Smart Talk, September 30, 2019.
Senator Anthony Williams
Democratic state Senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia, appears on Smart Talk, September 30, 2019.

Also, since voters in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, Brexit has dominated the headlines in not just in Britain and Europe but here in the United States. More than three years later, Britain doesn’t have a formal plan in place to leave the EU.

Hear an update on Brexit on Monday’s Smart Talk and why it matters in the U.S. Our guest is Professor Mark E. Duckenfield Ph.D, Chairman of the Department of National Security and Strategy (DNSS) at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.

Mark Duckenfield
Professor Mark E. Duckenfield Ph.D, Chairman of the Department of National Security and Strategy (DNSS) at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, appears on Smart Talk, September 30, 2019.

What will your obituary say about you?

Losing a loved one can be a difficult time for everyone.

When a family member or friend passes away, capturing their memories can be a challenging process. Obituaries are an essential part of someone’s life and an important way to continue someone’s legacy. However, are we prepared to write an obituary?

Obituaries today often are different than just a few years ago when just the basics of the deceased were listed. Those kinds of obituaries still exist but often there are those that talk about how the person died, what kind of personality they had, what they enjoyed doing, what was unique about them and even their quirks.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss writing an obituary is Alan Foster, Adjunct Professor of Journalism, Department of English, Millersville University.

Also, September is Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time when one of the fastest growing populations in Pennsylvania celebrate their culture and contributions but zero in on challenges they face, as well.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we discuss the heritage and challenges with members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs — Executive Director Luz Colon, George Fernandez and Delma Rivera-Lytle.

The Art of Storytelling

Everyone has a story to tell.

Many people may not know it, but their life experiences and the knowledge each person possesses are stories. Some are better at storytelling than others, but everyone does have a story.

The eighth annual Lititz Storytelling Festival is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Appearing on Smart Talk Wednesday is one of the world’s great storytellers; Daniel Morden who will also perform at the Lititz Storytelling Festival. David Worth, one of the founders of the Lititz Storytelling Festival joins the conversation, as well.

Also, in the early morning of April 14, 2014, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from their school in the small town of Chibok, Nigeria. The brazen and violent act made headlines around the world and galvanized global leaders demanding the girls return to their families.

In the book titled Beneath the Tamarind Tree, journalist and author Isha Sesay tells the story of the abduction, perseverance and eventual return of some of the girls.

Isha Sesay will deliver the keynote address for the 2019 Harrisburg Book Festival, which is taking place from October 3-6. Also appearing on the program is Alex Brubaker, manager of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, the festival sponsor.

Making a difference for Pa’s most vulnerable children

Children entering foster in Pennsylvania often encounter an overwhelmed system.

In 2017, there were more than 20 thousand children’s cases brought before Dependency Court. Adjudicating foster care cases is a lengthy process. On average, a child will spend nearly two full years in foster care while their case is determined. During that time, many kids will change foster homes three or more times.

It is a difficult and burdensome process to find safe, forever homes for abused or neglected children.

That’s where volunteers come in. Court Appointed Special Advocates are trained volunteers appointed by a judge to advocate for a child’s best interest in court. CASA volunteers help judges develop a fuller picture of each child’s life for the judge to make the most well-informed decision for each child.

The program is very successful, but there are more kids in the foster care system than there are volunteers to support them.

Appearing on Smart Talk Tuesday to discuss how the state can better support foster kids are Pennsylvania CASA Executive Director Jennifer DeBalko, Art McNulty, an Attorney and long-time CASA volunteer and Judge Edward Guido, Cumberland County, Common Pleas.

Also on Tuesday’s Smart Talk — Democratic State Senator Sharif Street of Philadelphia is proposing legislation that would make those convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison eligible for parole after serving 35 years behind bars. Under Street’s plan, second-degree murderers could be paroled after 25 years.

Sen. Street explains his proposal on Smart Talk.

Shawn’s Law; a bill to combat aided suicide

When 25-year-old Shawn Shatto died by suicide in May, her family was left struggling to understand why their daughter would take her own life. Imagine their horror to learn that she died with the help of an on-line chat room.

Republican State Rep. Dawn Keefer, who serves parts of York and Cumberland Counties, wants to make sure other families are spared the same pain.

Keefer introduced new legislation called Shawn’s Law that would increase criminal penalties for people convicted of aiding or encouraging another person to commit suicide.

Representative Keefer joins Smart Talk to discuss how the bill will increase sentences and strengthen the justice system’s response.

Also, as people age, maintaining the ability to remain at home may become more of a challenge.

Healthcare is complicated, especially for anyone dealing with health problems and limited resources.

Pennsylvania is launching a state-wide program to help Pennsylvanians manage their health care and, hopefully, remain in their homes longer.

The program is called Community HealthChoices and it is targeted toward the elderly who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid and adults with physical disabilities.

How do you know if you qualify and what, if anything, will change in your healthcare plan?

Appearing on Smart Talk on Monday to offer program details are Kevin Hancock, Deputy Secretary for Long Term Living, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and Laval Miller-Wilson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Law Project.

Insights into US foreign policy issues

As the nation enters election season there are many concerns facing voters, including wide-ranging national security issues. Tensions in the Middle East underscore the significance of U.S. policies and actions around the world.

National security refers to the ability of the country to survive a myriad of threats. The threats can come in the form of physical, economic or diplomatic challenges that the nation must prepare to manage or neutralize. National security issues are complicated and drive government strategy.

The Foreign Policy Association of Harrisburg believes that America’s foreign policy is everyone’s business and that all are directly affected by the role the United States plays in world affairs.

Throughout the year, the association invites internationally known diplomats and experts in foreign policy to speak to central Pennsylvania audiences about national security issues.

Appearing on Smart Talk Thursday is October’s association speaker Christine Wormuth to discuss the national security issues in the 2020 election. Wormuth is currently the Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corporation. Previously she was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, serving both Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel.

Also, WITF Capitol Bureau chief Katie Meyer joins Smart Talk to discuss the issues the newly returned Pennsylvania legislature could address this fall. They include a package of eight bills called “Energize PA,” in addition to a minimum wage increase and criminal justice reform.

 WITF Capitol Bureau chief Katie Meyer joins Smart Talk to discuss the issues the newly returned Pennsylvania legislature
WITF Capitol Bureau chief Katie Meyer joins Smart Talk on September 19, 2019

Compassionate listening in a hyper-connected world

Hearing and listening are not the same thing.

Hearing is the literal perception of sound, but consciously understanding and analyzing that sound is listening.

In the modern age of technology, there are many things that get in the way of active listening. Smart phones are the most pervasive example of this, but they are not the only impediment.

Conscious listening takes effort and intent and without those, is it all just noise?

The Someone to Tell It To organization believes that compassionate listening is so powerful as to improve relationships. In fact, they say that all healthy relationships begin with conscious listening that is authentic and non-judgmental.

Appearing on Smart Talk Wednesday to share their perspective and how a well-known PBS personality inspired their vision are Michael Gingerich and Tom Kaden, Co-founders and Chief Encouragement officers at Someone to Tell It To. Also joining the conversation is Junlei Li, PhD., former Executive Director of the Fred Rogers Center and senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Li is the keynote speaker at the Someone to Tell it To annual gathering on Sunday, September 29th at the Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs PA.

Also, in 2017 Pennsylvania law was changed to make consumer-grade fireworks legal. In the two years since, there have many complaints across the state, especially around the Fourth of July and other holidays, about the large number of fireworks that are being set off at night or scaring pets. There’s a movement to amend the law.

Joining us on Smart Talk to discuss calls for the current law to be amended are Richard Schuettler, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Brian Enterline, Chief of the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire and member of the PA Career Fire Chiefs Association.

A Mother’s Reckoning; author Sue Klebold

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last twenty years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold was selected as the WITF 2019 Summer Read. All summer, readers across Central Pennsylvania checked the book out from their local libraries and talked about it with friends, family, coworkers and book discussion groups. Over 10 participating library systems made 650 copies of A Mother’s Reckoning available to the community.

Now in its seventh year, the Summer Read project is a unique community partnership of WITF’s Transforming Health, Aligning Forces for Quality- South Central PA and Central PA library systems. It is supported by WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

Summer Read partners choose a community health topic and book, which they promote throughout the summer and is followed by a speaking event to close the program. Summer Read partners chose this book because they recognized the need to raise awareness about mental health and the need for increased access to care and resources.

Mother and author Sue Klebold appears on Smart Talk Tuesday.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold was selected as the WITF 2019 Summer Read.
Mother and author Sue Klebold appears on Smart Talk, September 17, 2019.


September is National Recovery Month

Some 20 million Americans battle substance use disorder. Of that number, only four million or one-fifth receive treatment. Even though much of the nation’s attention has been focused on an opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 in the last 20 years, alcohol is the substance most often abused. Almost 75% of those battling addiction are addicted to alcohol. Thirty-eight percent are addicted to drugs. Eight-and-a-half million suffer from mental health disorder and substance addiction.

These alarming statistics are the backdrop for National Recovery Month in September.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sponsors National Recovery Month to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and tell the stories of those in recovery.

Monday’s Smart Talk focuses on recovery with Pennsylvania Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith and the Director of the state’s Office of Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm.

For more information on addiction, plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare–check out WITF’s Transforming Health. Online at A partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

Jennifer Storm and Jennifer Smith
Director of the state’s Office of Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm and the Pennsylvania Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith, appear on Smart Talk, September 16, 2019.

If you need help, please call 1-800-662-HELP, a 24/7 hour hotline.



Health officials sound the alarm over vaping

Health officials across the country are sounding the alarm over E-cigarette use, which is also known as vaping.

Seventeen people across the state are believed to have “lung diseases associated with vaping,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Nationwide, the CDC reports six deaths and more than 450 cases of the disease.

The department is looking into another 20 cases that may also be tied to the electronic tobacco-and cannabis delivery systems.

What is causing the apparent increase in lung disease?

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s investigation is WITF Transforming Health reporter Brett Sholtis.

Brett Sholtis
WITF Transforming Health reporter, Brett Sholtis, appearing on Smart Talk, September 13, 2019.

Also, in 1953, a group of parents decided they wanted a better life for their intellectual and developmental challenged family members. The Arc of Dauphin County was born and has thrived for over 65 years in the Central Pennsylvania area.

The non-profit advocates for people with disabilities, consults for their employment needs, and provides programs to improve quality of life

For the entire month of October, artwork created by clients from The Arc of Dauphin County will be on exhibit at the WITF’s Public Media Center in Harrisburg Art in the Atrium showcase.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss the importance The Arc of Dauphin County plays in our community is the Education and Community Advocate, Kathy Gingerich, and the Director of Consumer Programs, Ken Seeger.

The Arc of Dauphin County
Director of Consumer Programs, Ken Seeger, and Education and Community Advocate, Kathy Gingerich. Appeared on Smart Talk, September 13, 2019.