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."

You might not know this, but today is "singles day." That's according to China and the world's largest supplier of goods, Alibaba. Together the two have turned an obscure student holiday into the country's biggest shopping event.

In the 1990s, Chinese university students began celebrating being unattached on Nov. 11, which of course is abbreviated 11/11.

The idea was for singles to go out, go to parties, go to bars without all the Valentine's Day commercial schmaltz.

At least that's what it was. Now it's the biggest commercial holiday on the planet.

You don't have to be convicted of a crime — or even accused of one — for police to seize your car or other property. It's legal. Several videos online are shedding some light on the controversial practice.

The practice is called civil asset forfeiture, and every year it brings cities millions of dollars in revenue, which often goes directly to the police budget. Police confiscate cars, jewelry, cash and homes they think are connected to crime. But the people these things belong to may have done nothing wrong.

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The Justice Department has weighed in on a class-action lawsuit in South Dakota pitting Native American tribes against state officials, and come down resoundingly in support of tribes.

Every summer thousands of interns flood the offices of Capitol Hill. One of their primary duties is to give constituents tours of the famous buildings. They parade visitors from the rotunda to statuary hall, offering stories and anecdotes.

But while these intern tours provide a great deal of information, they are sometimes a little short on actual history.



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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.

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.



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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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.

Bobby Foster Jr. can often be found reading the paper on a wooden bench outside Murry's grocery store on the corner of Sixth and H streets northeast in Washington, D.C.

"The sun shines over here this time of day," says Foster, a retired cook. "It's always good when the sun shines."

Murry's has been an anchor in this neighborhood for decades — during the crack wars of the 1980s and the urban blight that followed, when most other businesses packed up and left. Foster has been somewhat of an anchor, too. He's lived here for 54 years.

Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Tom Dart walks the halls of his jail every day. With 10,000 inmates, this place is a small city — except a third of the people here are mentally ill.

Dart has created some of the most innovative programs in the country to handle mentally ill inmates, hiring doctors and psychologists, and training staff. But if you ask anyone here, even this jail is barely managing.

"I can't conceive of anything more ridiculously stupid by government than to do what we're doing right now," Dart says.

On a recent Friday evening in Langley Park, Md., police officer Juan Damian drives his patrol car past fast food restaurants, discount stores and Hispanic groceries.

Damian estimates that at least two-thirds of the people here are undocumented, and that has made it a magnet for robberies over the years. Gangs know undocumented day workers are especially lucrative targets, he says. Their pockets are often stuffed with a day's or even a week's worth of wages. The street term for these men: "walking ATMs."

For 29 years, Alcatraz — the notorious prison off the coast of San Francisco — housed some of the nation's worst criminals: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Birdman Robert Stroud.

Today, 50 years after it closed, it's a museum. And earlier this year, the National Park Service gave Bill Baker, a former inmate, special permission to stay the night in his old cell. He was 24 when he was transferred to The Rock. Today, he's 80.



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And I'm Audie Cornish.

We're learning more about the woman who led police on a chase through the District of Columbia yesterday. The car chase ended with a shootout that left the woman, Miriam Carey, dead. Carey's family positively identified her body this afternoon. And to learn more about her background, we're joined by NPR's Laura Sullivan. And, Laura, first, what have you learned this point about Carey's mental state?



This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.



Big cheers in Watertown, Massachusetts, tonight and this tweet from the Boston Police Department, captured with three exclamation points, the hunt is over, the search is done, the terror is over, and justice has won, suspect in custody. We've been gathering a lot of information all day on the bombing suspects' backgrounds. NPR's Laura Sullivan reached three women who were roommates with a longtime girlfriend of the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Ten million people funnel in and out of our nation's jails and prisons every year. And every year, some of them get lost. Recently there have been two high-profile cases of such inmates — one who got out years too early, and one who stayed years too long. Both cases had disastrous consequences, but there's no easy fix to this problem. This story originally ran on Morning Edition on April 5.

Every year 10 million people funnel in and out of America's jails and prisons. And every year some of them get lost. Recently there have been two high-profile cases of such inmates — one who got out years too early, and one who stayed years too long. Both had disastrous consequences.

In January, Evan Ebel walked out of a Colorado prison four years too early. Two months later, he allegedly rang the doorbell of Tom Clements, the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, shot him in the chest and killed him. Ebel was shot and killed by police two days later.

For years now, council members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota have watched as the state's Department of Social Services removed children from the reservation and placed many of them in white foster homes, far from tribal lands. Many of the children were later adopted, losing their connection to their families and heritage.

"I've seen it firsthand," says Brandon Sazue, chairman of the Crow Creek tribe.

Sazue says the state has long overstepped its authority.