Laura Sullivan

Laura Sullivan is a NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most disadvantaged people.

Sullivan is one of NPR's most decorated journalists, with three Peabody Awards and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Batons. She joined NPR in 2004 as a correspondent on the National Desk. For six years she covered crime and punishment issues, with reports airing regularly on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and other NPR programs before joining NPR's investigations unit.

Her unflinching series "Native Foster Care," which aired in three parts on All Things Considered in October 2011, examined how lack of knowledge about Native culture and traditions and federal financial funding all influence the decision to remove so many Native-American children from homes in South Dakota. Through more than 150 interviews with state and federal officials, tribal representatives and families from eight South Dakota tribes, plus a review of thousands of records, Sullivan and NPR producers pieced together a narrative of inequality in the foster care system across the state. In addition to her third Peabody, the series also won Sullivan her second Robert F. Kennedy Award.

"Bonding for Profit" – a three-part investigative series that aired on Morning Edition and All Things Considered in 2010 – earned Sullivan her second duPont and Peabody, as well as awards from the Scripps Howard Foundation, Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and the American Bar Association. Working with editor Steve Drummond, Sullivan's stories in this series revealed deep and costly flaws in one of the most common – and commonly misunderstood – elements of the US criminal justice system.

Also in 2011, Sullivan was honored for the second time by Investigative Reporters and Editors for her two part series examining the origins of Arizona's controversial immigration law SB 1070.

For the three-part series, "36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Justice on Angola," she was honored with a 2008 George Foster Peabody Award, a 2008 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, and her first Robert F. Kennedy Award.

In 2007, Sullivan exposed the epidemic of rape on Native American reservations, which are committed largely by non-Native men, and examined how tribal and federal authorities have failed to investigate those crimes. In addition to a duPont, this two-part series earned Sullivan a DART Award for outstanding reporting, an Edward R. Murrow and her second Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media.

Her first Gracie was for a three-part series examining of the state of solitary confinement in this country. She was also awarded the 2007 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize for this series.

Before coming to NPR, Sullivan was a Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, where she covered the Justice Department, the FBI and terrorism.

As a student at Northwestern University in 1996, Sullivan worked with two fellow students on a project that ultimately freed four men, including two death-row inmates, who had been wrongfully convicted of an 18-year-old murder on the south side of Chicago. The case led to a review of Illinois' death row and a moratorium on capital punishment in the state, and received several awards.

Outside of her career as a reporter, Sullivan once spent a summer gutting fish in Alaska, and another summer cutting trails outside Yosemite National Park. She says these experiences gave her "a sense of adventure" that comes through in her reporting. Sullivan, who was born and raised in San Francisco, loves traveling the country to report radio stories that "come to life in a way that was never possible in print."

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Politics
5:23 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Senate Democrats Aim To Overturn High Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 10:32 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Politics
4:18 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

From The Border To The Hill, Influx Of Immigrant Kids Draws Concern

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 6:24 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The issue of immigration has heated up in recent weeks - not just in Eric Cantor's campaign but also along the border. There is a flood of unaccompanied immigrant children attempting to cross into the United States. The numbers have skyrocketed since last year - swamping Boarder Patrol facilities. The White House says the children are fleeing rising violence in their Central American home countries. For their part, Republicans are eager to attack the administration's immigration policies. Here is NPR's Laura Sullivan.

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NPR News Investigations
3:34 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Life After 'Life': Aging Inmates Struggle For Redemption

John Huckleberry sits in the back seat of a friend's car on the way back from visiting inmates at Sterling Correctional Facility. After 30 years in prison, Huckleberry — who was released in 2012 — helps aging inmates prepare for life outside prison.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 5:29 pm

Out in the empty plains of northeast Colorado two years ago, nine inmates line up against a wall inside the Sterling Correctional Facility. It's a line of green jumpsuits and gray hair.

The men, hobbling on canes, wait for the others to pull plastic chairs into a circle so class can begin. Today's instruction is about what life is like on the outside: how to use an ATM, how to find a job, what the Internet is.

These men have been in prison for two, three or four decades. These are things none of them know.

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Politics
5:11 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Rep. Murphy Aims For Mental Health Bill To Pass Before Next Shooting

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 12:36 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On a Friday, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The mass shooting in California last weekend has lawmakers on Capitol Hill talking again about overhauling the nation's mental health system. In recent months the issue has seemed to have been placed firmly on a back burner but yesterday psychologists and family members of those with mental illness urged Congress to do more. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

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Book News & Features
5:16 am
Thu May 29, 2014

Library Of Congress Searches For Missing Jefferson Books

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 7:33 am

Staffers at the Library of Congress have been looking for 250 books that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. He gave these books and several thousand more to start the library more than 200 years ago.

Politics
3:22 am
Thu May 8, 2014

The Executioner's Lament

Dr. Jay Chapman, pictured here in 2007, developed the original formula for lethal injections with the intention of making executions in the U.S. more humane.
Ben Margot AP

Originally published on Fri May 9, 2014 2:47 pm

In 1977, death row inmate Gary Mark Gilmore chose to be executed by a firing squad. Gilmore was strapped to a chair at the Utah State Prison, and five officers shot him.

The media circus that ensued prompted a group of lawmakers in nearby Oklahoma to wonder if there might be a better way to handle executions. They approached Dr. Jay Chapman, the state medical examiner at the time, who proposed using three drugs, based loosely on anesthesia procedures at the time: one drug to knock out the inmates, one to relax or paralyze them, and a final drug that would stop their hearts.

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Law
4:16 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

Enforcing Prison Rape Elimination Standards Proves Tricky

The Prison Rape Elimination Act standards are now taking effect in many states. Three auditors recently questioned staffers at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in a practice inspection.
Laura Sullivan NPR

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 9:54 pm

On a recent day at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, inmates in jumpsuits peek out of their cells to see three men with clipboards walk into the housing unit. These men are auditors doing a practice inspection. They're here to see if the facility complies with a federal law called the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA.

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News
4:06 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Lawmakers Seek To Lay Roadblock To Powerful Painkiller

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 6:33 pm

Sen. Joe Manchin is introducing a bill to force the Food and Drug Administration to ban potent new painkiller Zohydro, backed by a bipartisan effort to get the FDA to remove its approval of the drug.

Around the Nation
4:21 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

Government's Empty Buildings Are Costing Taxpayers Billions

A 132-year-old building owned by the federal government, just six blocks from the White House, has been sitting empty for three decades.
Laura Sullivan NPR

Originally published on Thu March 13, 2014 12:07 pm

On a street corner in downtown Washington, D.C., David Wise is opening a century-old iron gate in front of an old, boarded-up brick building.

Wise is an investigator for the Government Accountability Office, the government's watchdog group. His mission is to figure out why the government owns so many buildings, like this one, that it doesn't use.

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Health
6:37 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Critics Question FDA's Approval Of Zohydro

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 7:43 am

Prominent universities and drug addiction organizations are asking the FDA to reconsider its approval of a controversial painkiller called Zohydro. It's 10 times more powerful than OxyContin.

Law
6:42 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

Missouri Execution Stalled Over Lethal Drugs In Short Supply

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 7:58 pm

A few years ago, Missouri, like other states, was having trouble finding lethal execution drugs. Europe was balking, and U.S. drug manufacturers didn't want a part of it.

So Missouri turned to a place called a compounding pharmacy to make up the needed drugs based on the ingredients. Missouri officials sent an employee to a place called The Apothecary Shoppe in Oklahoma, with thousands of dollars in cash.

Last week, George Lombardi, director of Missouri's Department of Corrections, explained to lawmakers why his employees had to go to such lengths.

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Around the Nation
6:12 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Spike In Heroin Use Can Be Traced To Prescription Pads

Experts say today's heroin problem can be traced back to the aggressive prescribing of opioid drugs like OxyContin about 15 years ago.
Toby Talbot AP

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 8:02 pm

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has brought attention to a grim reality of drug abuse in America — most notably with the increasing use of heroin.

Hoffman was found dead in his apartment on Sunday, and New York police are investigating his death as a possible drug overdose. Hoffman struggled with drug addiction throughout his career.

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U.S.
3:46 am
Tue February 4, 2014

Exonerations On The Rise, And Not Just Because Of DNA

David Ranta speaks with reporters after being freed by a judge in March 2013. Ranta spent more than two decades in prison before a reinvestigation of his case cast serious doubt on evidence used to convict him in the shooting of a Brooklyn rabbi.
Mary Altaffer AP

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 8:12 am

2013 was a record-breaking year for exonerations in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations.

At least 87 people were set free for crimes they did not commit last year, the highest number since researchers began keeping track more than 20 years ago. Some of those people spent decades in prison before release.

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Around the Nation
6:32 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

As States Close Prisons And Cut Crime, Feds Lag Behind

When state prison populations were at their peak, prisons like San Quentin in California used gymnasiums to house inmates in bunks. Now it's the federal prison system that's overcrowded. The Bureau of Prisons says it's 35 to 40 percent over capacity.
Eric Risberg AP

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 8:08 pm

State prison populations are declining for the first time in four decades. But at the federal level, incarceration rates are going in the opposite direction.

The federal Bureau of Prisons is on track to swallow a third of the Justice Department's budget by 2020, according to a report by the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

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Politics
5:57 am
Fri January 24, 2014

Why Small Town Mayors Face Multiple Disadvantages

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 7:29 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hundreds of mayors converged on Washington, D.C. this week for the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. There were some big names in the group: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, New York Mayor Bill de Blassio. Also in the mix were mayors from some of the country's smallest towns and cities. NPR's Laura Sullivan spent the day with the mayor of Ville Platte, Louisiana, who, like most small town mayors, was trying to find a way to stand out in the crowd.

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