Alfred Blumstein

June 3, 1930

Brief Biography

Alfred Blumstein

Born in New York City to a family of modest financial circumstances, Alfred Blumstein is one of the leading figures in bringing operations research to the study of criminal justice. Seeking to pursue a financially attractive career after high school, Blumstein took up engineering and enrolled in Cornell’s new five-year engineering physics program. Blumstein’s classmates went on to physics graduate programs, but Blumstein was looking for something else. He discovered operations research in his senior year and his best job offer was doing military operations research with an operations research group at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL) in Buffalo, New York. 

Blumstein’s first assignment at CAL was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and pertained to air defense systems and introduced him to applied operations research. This gave him the necessary foundation to further pursue the discipline in the OR program at Cornell. He was the third PhD graduate from Cornell’s then-new OR PhD program. His dissertation on air traffic control addressed a growing problem in airports receiving the increasing traffic demand. His research results altered certain perceptions within the Federal Aviation Authority and played an important role in addressing the runway problems of the period.

Shortly after receiving his PhD in 1960, Blumstein was attracted to John Kennedy’s Washington, where he accepted a position at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). While at IDA, Blumstein was contacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Blumstein was asked to direct a task force assigned to the investigation of how science and technology could be used to deal with crime, especially with the criminal justice system. Though he protested that he knew little to nothing about crime or the judicial process, he was assured that there were many experts in those issues at the Commission, and so he accepted. As Blumstein saw it, he was akin to an “OR missionary”, responsible for bringing the methods “that characterize the hallmark of OR” to criminal justice. Among other contributions, Blumstein played a major role in the development of models of “criminal careers” and in the promotion of the Justice System Interactive Model (JUSSIM) computer program that made it possible to analyze how single factors in the criminal justice system affected the whole.

Blumstein left in 1969 to join the newly established School of Urban and Public Affairs at Carnegie Mellon University. He has been with the university ever since and he served as Dean of the re-named H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management from 1986 to 1993. Blumstein spent a decade (1996-2006) as director of the National Science Foundation-sponsored National Consortium on Violence Research (NCOVR). He has continued his work in studying the criminal justice system, covering such topics as crime measurement, the modeling of criminal careers, sentencing, analysis of deterrence and incapacitation, prison populations, demographic trends, and drug-enforcement analysis.  Blumstein remains deeply committed to understanding the implications that certain social and political factors have on the execution and prosecution of crime. He has chaired three panels of the National Academies on deterrence and incapacitation, on sentencing research, and on criminal careers.

Blumstein is one of only two people (the other being John D. C. Little) to hold the distinction of being president of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), and the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). As president of ORSA, his primary task was to reestablish the fiscal integrity of the organization. At TIMS, he was responsible for laying the groundwork for the two organization’s 1995 merger. Blumstein was recognized for his service in 1985 with the George E. Kimball Medal and again in 1993 with the President’s Award. Naturally, he was elected into the inaugural class of INFORMS Fellows in 2002. He also served as president of the American Society of Criminology and was awarded the 2007 Stockholm Prize in Criminology. He has also been elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering.      

Blumstein has served on multiple government commissions on criminology and justice, including as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (1979-1990) and as a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (1986-96). Most recently, Blumstein served as chair of the Science Advisory Board for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (2010-2014). 

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Alfred Blumstein
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Wikipedia Entry for Alfred Blumstein

Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College. Faculty Details: Alfred Blumstein. Accessed February 18, 2015. (link)

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Alfred Blumstein. Accessed February 18, 2015. (link)

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. Center of Race & Social Problems. Accessed February 18, 2015. (link)


Cornell University, BA 1951

University of Buffalo, MS 1954

Cornell University, PhD 1960 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Al Blumstein (2018) Interview by Arjang Assad, November 5, 2018, Phoenix, AZ.

NOTE:  The video chapter transcripts below are searchable, with search results displayed as marks on the time bar above the search box.  Click a mark to jump to the search word or phrase in the video and transcript, or click on any word in the transcript to jump to that point in the video.

Jump to Chapters

Chapter 1: Introduction and Early Life
Chapter 2: Discovering Operations Research
Chapter 3: Washington and the Institute for Defense Analysis
Chapter 4: President Johnson’s Commission on Criminal Justice
Chapter 5: Transforming Criminology to a Quantitative Field with Simulation
Chapter 6: Moving to Carnegie Mellon
Chapter 7: Leadership in ORSA, TIMS and INFORMS
Chapter 8: Evolution of Operations Research
Chapter 9: Family
Chapter 10: Pivotal Accomplishments
Chapter 11: Advice to Young People Starting in OR

Alfred Blumstein (1999) Interview by Judy Rubinstein & Howard Braun, April 5. Audio. National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section. Oral History Collection at the University of Pittsburgh. (audio)

Alfred Blumstein (2003) Interview by Robert Sampson, November 20. Video. American Society of Criminology. (See embedded YouTube video below)


Memoirs and Autobiographies


Blumstein A. (2007) An OR missionary’s visits to the criminal justice system. Operations Research, 55(1): 14-23 (link).

Blumstein A (2020) Engineer to Operations Research to Criminology: Quite a Trajectory.  Annual Review of Criminology 3:1-20. (link)

Awards and Honors

American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow 1971

George E. Kimball Medal 1985

INFORMS President's Award 1993

National Academy of Engineering Member 1998

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Philip McCord Morse Lectureship Award 2003

Stockholm Prize in Criminology 2007

Professional Service

Consortium of Social Science Associations, President 1998-2000

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences  (INFORMS), President 1996

American Society of Criminology, President 1992 

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1987-1988

National Academy of Sciences Committee on Research on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, Chairman 1979-1984

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1977-1978

Selected Publications

Blumstein A. (1960) An analytical investigation of airport capacity (No. TA-1358-G-1). Cornell Aeronautical Lab Inc.: Buffalo, NY.

Blumstein A. & Larson R. (1969) Models of a Total Criminal Justice System. Operations Research, 17(2): 199-232.

Belkin J., Blumstein A., & Glass W. (1971) JUSSIM, an interactive computer program for analysis of criminal justice systems. Report of the urban systems institute, school of urban and political affairs. Carnegie Mellon University: Pittsburgh, PA.

Blumstein A. & Cohen J. (1979) Estimation of Individual Crime Rates from Arrest Records. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 70(4): 561-585.

Blumstein A., Cohen J., Martin S. E., & Tonry M. H. (1983) Research on Sentencing: The Search for Reform, Volume I. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

Barnett, A. Blumstein A., & Farrington D. (1987) Probabilistic Models of Youthful Criminal Careers. Criminology, 25: 83-107.

Blumstein A. & Cork D. (1997) Linking Gun Availability to Youth Gun Violence. Law and Contemporary Problems, 59(1): 5-24.

Blumstein A. (2002) Crime Modeling. Operations Research, 50 (1): 16-24

Blumstein A. & Wallman J., eds. (2006) The Crime Drop in America. Cambridge University Press.

Additional Resources

Blumstein A. (1993) Making Rationality Relevant - The American Society of Criminology 1992 Presidential Address.  Criminology 31:1 

Blumstein A. (2007) An OR missionary's visits to the criminal justice system. Operations Research, 55(1): 14-23. (link)