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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2:09am

Fri April 5, 2013
Law

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

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 7:16 pm

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

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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4:24pm

Fri November 30, 2012
The Two-Way

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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5:26am

Tue June 12, 2012
History

50 Years Later, Mystery Of Alcatraz Escape Endures

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 11:37 am

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

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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3:53am

Tue June 12, 2012
U.S.

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.

4:02am

Sun June 10, 2012
History

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

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 5:43 pm

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

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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2:11pm

Sat March 24, 2012
Law

Unlikely Advocates For Teen Killers: Victims' Families

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

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

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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10:01pm

Tue March 13, 2012
Law

ICE Opens Immigrant Detention Center In Rural Texas

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 8:56 am

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

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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10:01pm

Wed December 14, 2011
Law

Death Sentences Drop To Historic Lows In 2011

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

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

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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1:00pm

Sun November 6, 2011
Latin America

Nicaragua, Guatemala: '80s Rebels Seek Leadership

Originally published on Sun November 6, 2011 4:59 pm

Transcript

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

Nicaragua isn't the only country in Central America holding elections today. In Guatemala, people are also headed to the polls to choose a new president. And in both countries, the elections are fraught with history.

Back in the 1980s, Guatemala and Nicaragua were facing civil war and revolution. Twenty-five years later, both countries are still embattled but with different issues.

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3:00am

Thu October 27, 2011
NPR News Investigations

Native Survivors Of Foster Care Return Home

Originally published on Thu November 15, 2012 4:02 pm

When Dwayne Stenstrom was 8 years old a state worker told him that he and his brother were going to a special camp for the summer. Instead, he spent 12 years in foster care.

John Poole NPR

Part 3 of a three-part investigation

Dwayne Stenstrom is a professor of American history. His office is lined with towers of obscure books and poetry on the walls. There's even a copy of the Declaration of Independence in a binder.

He teaches this document like many other professors, beginning with, "We hold these truths to be self evident." But he stops on another phrase — "the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages."

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10:32am

Wed October 26, 2011
NPR News Investigations

Tribes Question Foster Group's Power And Influence

Originally published on Wed October 26, 2011 12:46 pm

Children at the Black Hills campus of the Children's Home Society head into the main building for lunch. The home caters to children with special needs, many of whom are Native American.

Laura Sullivan NPR

Part two of a three-part investigation

On a small crest deep in South Dakota's Black Hills, a dozen children jumped on sleds and floated across the snow. They are wards of the state, and this is their home: the western campus of the Children's Home Society.

There are rolling hills, a babbling brook — even a new school.

Children's Home Director Bill Colson says it's a place to help children who can't make it in regular foster homes.

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10:01am

Tue October 25, 2011
NPR News Investigations

Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families

Originally published on Thu October 27, 2011 10:27 am

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

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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