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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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 Fri June 6, 2014 1:20 am

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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Around the Nation
3:43 am
Wed January 22, 2014

Gentrification May Actually Be Boon To Longtime Residents

The bustling Sidamo coffee shop in Washington's H Street Northeast neighborhood. The area has attracted many new, young residents and high-end bars, retail and restaurants over the past several years.
Meredith Rizzo NPR

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 9:34 am

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.

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Around the Nation
5:37 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Mentally Ill Are Often Locked Up In Jails That Can't Help

Mentally ill inmates who are able to shower, eat, sit quietly and otherwise care for themselves live in the jail's Division 2. A psychologist is stationed right outside the room, and officers are specially trained to deal with psychotic episodes.
Laura Sullivan NPR

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 9:55 am

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.

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Around the Nation
3:27 am
Mon January 20, 2014

Police, Banks Help Undocumented Workers Shake 'Walking ATM' Label

Prince George's County, Md., Police Officer Juan Damian and Dora Escobar outside one of her popular check cashing businesses.
Laura Sullivan NPR

Originally published on Mon January 20, 2014 8:04 am

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."

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U.S.
2:21 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

A Night At The Rock: Former Alcatraz Inmate Journeys Back

Bill Baker returned to Alcatraz for the first time since he was an inmate there more than 50 years ago.
Laura Sullivan NPR

Originally published on Mon October 14, 2013 6:19 pm

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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NPR Story
4:24 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

New Details Emerge On Woman Shot After Capitol Hill Car Chase

Originally published on Fri October 4, 2013 5:24 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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?

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Around the Nation
4:24 am
Thu May 16, 2013

South Dakota Officials Miss Historic Meeting With Tribes

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 3:03 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Explosions At Boston Marathon
10:50 pm
Fri April 19, 2013

Older Suspect Described As Controlling, Manipulative

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 10:51 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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.

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Around the Nation
5:04 pm
Sun April 7, 2013

Getting Lost In The Prison System

Originally published on Sun April 7, 2013 5:42 pm

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.

Law
4:09 am
Fri April 5, 2013

Without Reviews, Inmates Can Get Lost In U.S. Prison System

Stephen Slevin, who spent more than 22 months in solitary confinement despite not being convicted of a crime, is seen here in Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department photos, before and after his time in solitary.
AP

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 9:16 pm

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.

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NPR Story
4:27 pm
Wed February 6, 2013

South Dakota Tribes Accuse State Of Violating Indian Welfare Act

Derrin Yellow Robe, 3, stands in his great-grandparents' backyard on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. He was taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services in July 2009 and spent a year and a half in foster care before being returned to his family.
John Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 11:35 am

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.

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The Two-Way
6:24 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

Tribal Coalition Report Finds South Dakota 'Willfully' Violated Child Welfare Law

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 7:38 pm

South Dakota's foster care system "systematically violated the spirit and the letter" of a law meant to protect Native American children, a coalition of tribal directors from the state's nine Sioux tribes said in a report released Thursday night. The report comes a year after NPR aired a series questioning whether the law was being enforced.

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History
7:26 am
Tue June 12, 2012

50 Years Later, Mystery Of Alcatraz Escape Endures

Alcatraz on the 50th anniversary of the escape of inmates Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin.
Annie Tritt for NPR

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 1:37 pm

Fifty years ago three men set out into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay in a raft made out of raincoats. It was one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history from what was billed as the nation's only "escape-proof prison" — Alcatraz.

Most people assume the men have been at the bottom of the bay or were swept out to sea since the night they broke free, tunneling out of their cells in part with spoons from the kitchen and climbing the prisons' plumbing to the roof.

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History
6:02 am
Sun June 10, 2012

Return To Alcatraz: Will A Legend End After 50 Years?

Sometimes referred to as "The Rock," Alcatraz Island on San Francisco Bay in California served as a lighthouse, then a military fortification, and then a federal prison until 1972, when it became a national recreation area. Now the island is open to tours.
Gabriel Bouys AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 7:43 pm

Fifty years ago, three men set out into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay in a raft made out of raincoats. It was one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history.

As one newsreel put it: The spoon proved "mightier than the bars at supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz prison."

"Three bank robbers serving long terms scratched their way through grills covering an air vent, climbed a drainage pipe and disappeared from the forbidding rock in San Francisco Bay," the report continued.

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Law
10:01 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Trying To Make Immigrant Detention Less Like Prison

The Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Texas has outdoor spaces and other features meant to make immigrant detention less like prison. It will house mostly low-risk, nonviolent offenders.
Laura Sullivan/NPR

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 10:56 am

Just off the side of the road in rural southern Texas is a large beige building that looks a lot like a prison. Fences and tall walls mark the outside. Inside, the doors slam and people sit in control booths at the end of long concrete hallways.

But just a little farther into the facility, the door opens to a courtyard in the center of the complex, and there, things begin to change. There's a soccer field, a pavilion and a gymnasium. There's also a walk-up pharmacy and commissary. All of it is guarded by officers in polo shirts.

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NPR News Investigations
10:24 am
Wed October 26, 2011

Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families

Derrin Yellow Robe, 3, stands in his great-grandparents' backyard on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Along with his twin sister and two older sisters, he was taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services in July 2009 and spent a year and a half in foster care before being returned to his family.

John Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu October 27, 2011 12:27 pm

Overview of a three-part investigation

Nearly 700 Native American children in South Dakota are being removed from their homes every year, sometimes under questionable circumstances. An NPR News investigation has found that the state is largely failing to place them according to the law. The vast majority of native kids in foster care in South Dakota are in nonnative homes or group homes, according to an NPR analysis of state records.

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