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Professor wins award for criminology work

Alfred Blumstein, a professor in the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, was awarded this year’s Stockholm Prize in criminology last week.

The current director of the National Consortium on Violence Research, Blumstein won for his analyses of developmental and life-course criminology and for his influence on public policy in criminal justice over the past 40 years. He shares the prize with Terrie E. Moffitt of King’s College, London.

Blumstein is a former dean of the Heinz School and the J. Erik Jonsson university professor of urban systems and operations research. He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and a Ph.D. in operations research from Cornell University. He was first exposed to criminology in 1966 when he was recruited to lead a task force on science and technology for President Lyndon Johnson’s Crime Commission.

“They came to feel that science and technology were getting a man to the moon — so it certainly ought to be able to solve the urban crime problem,” Blumstein said.

After he was introduced to the field, he submitted a few papers using his background in engineering and operations research for perspective on criminology, but found the field tough to crack.

“My first few papers were turned down by criminology journals,” Blumstein said. “So it’s really very satisfying to be accepted as a significant player in that field.”

In 1969, Blumstein was hired as a faculty member by Brian Cooper, the dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Urban and Public Affairs (SUPA), now the Heinz School.

“It sounded like an exciting opportunity partly because the kind of work that I did, which was somewhat technical, would be much more appreciated in a techy place like Carnegie Mellon,” Blumstein said. “And that I could interact with people with analytic orientations.”

Blumstein went on to become the dean of SUPA, renamed the Heinz School in 1992, for seven and a half years (1986–1993). In that time, he became a mentor to many, including the Ph.D. advisor to Daniel Nagin, now the Teresa and H. John Heinz III professor of public policy and statistics.

Now considered his colleague in the field of criminology, Nagin wrote Blumstein’s nomination letter for the Stockholm Prize.

“He’s been a great mentor [to me] and to many students. He has a great knack for encouraging people and bringing out the best in them,” Nagin said.

Blumstein feels the ultimate goal of his research is to form policy and to better understand the phenomenon of crime and how we deal with it. From 1979 to 1990, Blumstein served as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, providing him the experience of planning and creating policies for the state’s criminal justice department.

Blumstein emphasized that his stance has always been to promote rational, effective policy rather than the ideological policy that he believes dominates today.

“Professor Al Blumstein has had a seminal career of contributions to criminology,” stated provost and senior vice-president Mark S. Kamlet.

“This award is basically the Nobel Prize in criminology.”

Blumstein’s current project studies redemption and the number of crime-free years it takes for a criminal to finally be no more of a crime risk than someone who does not have a record. This project sprouted from his research on the crime types that were contributing the most to the prison population and the racial disproportionality in prisons.
“Inevitably, as soon as you finish writing one paper, there’s another one staring you in the face that you want to get to,” Blumstein said.

Although he was recruited into it, Blumstein has come to love criminology and believes that crime is important to America.

“Aside from the war in Iraq, crime is the leading indicator of what the public views as the most serious issue in America.”

He added, “We are by far the most punitive country in the world. Right now, over 0.7 percent of our population, around 2.2 million people, are in jail. So that’s something too.”

The Stockholm Prize, which was established this year, is awarded to those who have made outstanding achievements in criminological research or have successfully applied research results for the reduction of crime and the advancement of human rights.

The winner is selected by an international jury representing distinguished practitioners and academics in criminology.

Blumstein will formally accept the award at the international Stockholm Criminology Symposium in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 5, 2007.