Criminology Alfred Blumstein
by
Robert Brame
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0202

Introduction

Alfred “Al” Blumstein’s career contributions stand at the intersection of operations research, policy analysis, and criminology. A member of the National Academy of Engineering who has served as the president of four major academic societies, Al was born in 1930 and raised in New York City. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics at Cornell in 1951 and embarked on a PhD at Cornell in the emerging field of operations research. He completed his studies in 1960 with a dissertation focused on air traffic and airport runway landing capacity. Al’s first significant engagement with crime research arose in his leadership of the Institute for Defense Analysis’s (IDA) Science and Technology Task Force in President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1966. Since that time, Al has spent most of his career working on issues related to crime and criminal justice policy. In 1969, Al left the IDA and joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University where—after nearly fifty years—he remains today. Since the mid-20th century, Al’s research has contributed to an improved understanding of the criminal justice process, the theoretical ideas of deterrence and incapacitation, and criminal justice policies related to sentencing, criminal offending careers, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, crime rates, and criminal recidivism.

Models of the Criminal Justice System

As recounted in Nagin 2011, Al led the Institute for Defense Analysis’s (IDA) Science and Technology Task Force. Its report to the president’s commission examined the operations and workings of the entire criminal justice system. For example, Christensen 1967 within this report documented for the first time that a US male born in the mid-1960s would have at least a 50 percent chance of being arrested for a nontraffic offense in his lifetime. Combining this information with other evidence about arrest statistics leads to the since-widely accepted conclusion that most arrests in any given year are recidivist arrests—not first-time arrests. Given that US arrest statistics (both then and in the early 21st century) do not tell us explicitly about the prior records of those who are arrested, this was a major analytical achievement. The report served as the foundation for a series of important papers by Al and others on how the criminal justice system operates in total, including Blumstein and Larson 1969; Blumstein and Larson 1971; and Belkin, et al. 1973. This line of research led to the development of an important computer program called JUSSIM (Justice System Interactive Model) that allowed users to simulate how various changes to the operation of one part of the criminal justice system might affect other parts of the system (discussed in Blumstein 2002) and laid one of the analytical foundations of the criminal career paradigm: the idea that the causes of whether one participates in crime may be very different from the causes of the frequency or intensity of one’s criminal activity (Blumstein and Graddy 1981–1982).

  • Belkin, Jacob, Alfred Blumstein, and William Glass. 1973. Recidivism as a feedback process: An analytical model and empirical validation. Journal of Criminal Justice 1:7–26.

    DOI: 10.1016/0047-2352(73)90003-2E-mail Citation »

    Describes and validates a formal model of how both virgin and recidivist arrests combine to generate the arrest workload of US law enforcement agencies.

  • Blumstein, Alfred. 2002. Crime modeling. Operations Research 50:16–24.

    DOI: 10.1287/opre.50.1.16.17794E-mail Citation »

    Provides a detailed summary of the Science and Technology Task Force’s staff and work in the 1960s and the related work that transpired afterward.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, and Elizabeth Graddy. 1981–1982. Prevalence and recidivism in index arrests: A feedback model. Law and Society Review 16:265–290.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053360E-mail Citation »

    Combines formal models of the criminal justice system with several data sources to demonstrate that racial disparities in criminal justice system involvement are not equally prevalent throughout the system. Specifically, the study shows that race is a stronger predictor of initial arrests for index crimes than of recidivist arrests. The findings have implications for criminal career research (see the section Criminal Careers for more on this).

  • Blumstein, Alfred, and Richard C. Larson. 1969. Models of a total criminal justice system. Operations Research 17:199–232.

    DOI: 10.1287/opre.17.2.199E-mail Citation »

    A summary of the parameters that should be considered for a reasonable formal model of the American criminal justice system. Directly informed by the work of the IDA’s Science and Technology Task Force.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, and Richard C. Larson. 1971. Problems in modeling and measuring recidivism. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 8:124–132.

    DOI: 10.1177/002242787100800202E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on and further developing ideas in Blumstein and Larson 1969, this paper outlines a series of analytic issues—especially sampling issues—that should be considered in recidivism studies.

  • Christensen, Ronald. 1967. Projected percentage of U.S. population with criminal arrest and conviction records. In Task force report: Science and technology. Edited by Institute for Defense Analysis, 216–228. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

    E-mail Citation »

    Combines information from a variety of different sources with a set of formally defined assumptions to develop estimates of the lifetime chances of arrest and conviction for nontraffic offenses.

  • Nagin, Daniel S. 2011. Alfred Blumstein. In Profiles in operations research: Pioneers and innovators. Edited by Arjang A. Assad and Saul I. Gass, 701–719. New York: Springer.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Daniel S. Nagin, a student and longtime colleague, this essay profiles the life and scientific contributions of Alfred Blumstein.

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