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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4:16pm

Wed April 2, 2014
Law

Enforcing Prison Rape Elimination Standards Proves Tricky

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

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

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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4:06pm

Fri March 14, 2014
News

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.

4:21pm

Wed March 12, 2014
Around the Nation

Government's Empty Buildings Are Costing Taxpayers Billions

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

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

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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6:37am

Wed February 26, 2014
Health

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.

3:37am

Wed February 12, 2014
Governing

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

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 3:25 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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3:46am

Tue February 4, 2014
U.S.

Exonerations On The Rise, And Not Just Because Of DNA

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

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

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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5:12am

Fri January 24, 2014
Politics

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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3:43am

Wed January 22, 2014
Around the Nation

Gentrification May Actually Be Boon To Longtime Residents

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

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

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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4:55pm

Mon January 20, 2014
Around the Nation

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

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

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

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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3:27am

Mon January 20, 2014
Around the Nation

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

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

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

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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