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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History
2:56 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Ghost Cats And Musket Balls: Stories Told By Capitol Interns

Interns who host tours on Capitol Hill, stopping at sites like the small Senate rotunda, don't always have their facts straight.
The Architect of the Capitol

Originally published on Tue July 29, 2014 5:00 am

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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It's All Politics
3:35 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Insurance For Fake Identities The Latest Skirmish Over Obamacare

Investigators were able to fraudulently sign up for coverage through HealthCare.gov, sparking criticism from Republican lawmakers.
J. David Ake AP

House Republicans went on the attack Wednesday over what they say is the latest bungling of the Affordable Care Act: fake identities used to get insurance.

Undercover investigators were able to get taxpayer-subsidized health insurance from the government's website 11 out of the 18 times they tried, according to a preliminary report from the Government Accountability Office.

Republicans on the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee say fraud and abuse will be rampant and may already be.

Democrats question all the fuss.

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Politics
2:53 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Senate Re-Authorizes Government's Role In Terrorism Insurance

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 6:40 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize a bill first passed after 9/11. It allows the government to act as a financial backstop in the event of a large terrorist attack. Supporters say it's crucial for anyone trying to build a shopping mall or skyscraper. But as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports, the bill may run into trouble in the house.

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Politics
3:23 am
Wed July 16, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 8:32 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
2:11 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Lawmakers Unearth Failures To Investigate Campus Sex Crimes

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 8:39 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

U.S. colleges are failing to investigate sex crimes on their campuses. That's the conclusion of a new national survey commissioned by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. The survey is part of an effort by several senators to reduce sexual assaults in college and change a culture where only 5 percent of victims report the crime. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports from the capital.

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Politics
2:09 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

Lawmakers' Step Back Toward Disclosure Driven By Optics

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 4:26 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The House Ethics Committee is undoing a recent change it made to lawmakers' annual financial disclosure forms. The committee had deleted a line asking what free trips members have taken in the previous year. These trips are usually paid for by companies or private interest groups. Members justified the change this week, saying that the information was redundant. But they've now decided to reverse course and put the question back. Joining us from the Capitol to explain this is NPR's Laura Sullivan. And Laura, what started this controversy?

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Politics
2:20 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

VA Bill Was An Easy Sell, But Some Senators Still Feel Sticker Shock

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 5:08 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

No politician wants to be seen voting against veterans. A recent bill to increase veterans' benefits and overhaul much of the VA sailed through the Senate, and now the House is working on a compromise to get it to the president. Despite to the momentum, one thing caught lawmakers in both parties by surprise this week - the bill's cost. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

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Politics
2:18 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 4:24 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
1:34 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 3:29 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
3:11 am
Fri May 30, 2014

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

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 10:36 am

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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Politics
1:22 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 12:47 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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Politics
2:13 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Effort To Force Treatment On Severely Mentally Ill Meets Resistance

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., speaks during a December 2013 news conference in Washington to discuss the introduction of a legislative package of major mental health reforms.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 6:32 pm

Ed Kelley and his wife have three children. They live in a comfortable suburb of Baltimore. And for a long time their life seemed perfect.

"We were churchgoing; we were involved in the community. We had a very close-knit family all around us."

And he adored his 14-year-old son.

"He was funny, he was getting good grades, he loved playing sports; he was so humorous. Actually for the longest time he was sort of the center of the family."

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Law
2:16 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 7:54 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
2:06 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Lawmakers Seek To Lay Roadblock To Powerful Painkiller

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 4:33 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
2:21 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 10:07 am

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
4:37 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Critics Question FDA's Approval Of Zohydro

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 5:43 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
4:42 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

Missouri Execution Stalled Over Lethal Drugs In Short Supply

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 5:58 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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Governing
1:37 am
Wed February 12, 2014

To Rent Or Buy? For The Federal Government, It's Complicated

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 1:25 pm

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been in the hot seat in recent weeks for mishandling the leases for some of its office space. The Department of the Interior's inspector general found that BIA violated multiple rules, including overpaying for space and renting too much of it — in some cases without government authority to do so.

In all, the report found the BIA actions will cost taxpayers $32 million.

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Around the Nation
4:12 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 6:02 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.
1:46 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 6:12 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
4:32 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 6:08 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
3:57 am
Fri January 24, 2014

Why Small Town Mayors Face Multiple Disadvantages

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 5:29 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
1:43 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 7:34 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
3:25 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 7:55 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
1:27 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 6:04 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.
12:21 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 4:19 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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Around the Nation
3:24 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

New Details Emerge On Woman Shot After Capitol Hill Car Chase

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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National Security
3:12 pm
Mon June 10, 2013

Booz Allen Hamilton A Major Player In Intelligence Community

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 6:11 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Back in the U.S., the leaks have put a spotlight on the company Edward Snowden worked for. Booz Allen Hamilton is one of the largest private contractors that does intelligence work for the government. Its share of the work keeps getting bigger, and as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports, that worries some government watchdogs.

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Around the Nation
2:24 am
Thu May 16, 2013

South Dakota Officials Miss Historic Meeting With Tribes

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 1:03 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
7:06 pm
Fri April 19, 2013

Older Suspect Described As Controlling, Manipulative

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 8:51 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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