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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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
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
3:07 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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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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Law
2:09 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 7:16 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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The Two-Way
4:24 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

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

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 5:38 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
5:26 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 11:37 am

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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U.S.
3:53 am
Tue June 12, 2012

50 Years Later, Mystery Of Alcatraz Escape Endures

The legend of the escape from Alcatraz has always held that Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin would return for the 50th anniversary of their famed 1962 prison breakout. Tuesday was that anniversary. And while the men, who would now be in their 80s, haven't been heard from in half a century, family members went to the island for the first time to wait — along with U.S. Marshals — just in case.

History
4:02 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 5:43 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
2:11 pm
Sat March 24, 2012

Unlikely Advocates For Teen Killers: Victims' Families

Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel wait outside the Supreme Court for Tuesday's hearing on whether it is unconstitutional to sentence teenagers to life in prison without the possibility of parole. When he was 16, Israel shot and killed Johnson's son.
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

Originally published on Sat March 24, 2012 9:32 pm

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week about the fate of 2,500 offenders who were sentenced as teenagers to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Seventy-nine of them were 13 or 14 when they committed their crimes.

Many prosecutors and family members of victims spoke out about the need to keep the sentences in place.

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Law
10:01 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

ICE Opens Immigrant Detention Center In Rural Texas

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 8:56 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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Law
10:01 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Death Sentences Drop To Historic Lows In 2011

The high-profile case of Troy Davis sparked national debate on the death penalty. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says there's growing discontent among Americans about capital punishment.
David Tulis AP

Originally published on Thu December 15, 2011 9:05 am

Death sentences dropped dramatically this year, marking the first time in more than three decades that judges and juries sent fewer than 100 people to death row, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Just 78 offenders were handed capital sentences, and only 43 inmates were executed — almost half as many as 10 years ago.

American Reaction

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