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Lehigh Univ., Pennsylvania Department of Corrections win Wagner Prize

Lehigh University students and professors teamed up with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to earn the 2017 Wagner Prize.

Nearly 100 unique factors have to be considered during the complicated task of assigning inmates to any of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ 25 facilities. What once took seven employees nearly a week to accomplish can now be completed in less than 10 minutes at an expected savings of nearly $3 million, thanks to an algorithm created by a team of Lehigh University students and professors and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. In recognition of their unique new application of operations research (O.R.), Tamás Terlaky, Mohammad Shahabsafa, Chaitanya Gudapati, Anshul Sharma, Louis J. Plebani and George R. Wilson of Lehigh University and Kristofer B. Bucklen of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections were presented the Daniel H. Wagner Prize for Excellence in Operations Research Practice by INFORMS, the leading international association for analytics and operations research professionals.

The prize-winning paper, “The Inmate Assignment and Scheduling Problem and its Application in the PA Department of Corrections,” not only realized profound success in a real-world setting, but it had a strong mathematical foundation that was easily and concisely communicated. The award was presented during the 2017 INFORMS Annual Meeting in Houston, which attracted more than 5,600 students, academics, professionals and industry leaders from around the world.

Over a period of five years, the team from Lehigh University worked closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to successfully implement the novel Inmate Assignment Decision Support System (IADSS). IADSS was designed to address the problems associated with inmate assignment by providing an optimal, simultaneous system-wide assignment tool. The project, which has been recognized for its contribution on the floors of the House and Senate in the Pennsylvania Capitol and included in the permanent record of Pennsylvania, is the first time that O.R. methodologies have been used to optimize operations in the correctional system.

Other finalists for the 2017 award included:

  • “Forecasting and Optimization Models for Audience Targeting on Television” by Wes Chaar, J. Antonio Carbajal, CAP, and Peter Alexander Williams, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
  • “Crew Decision Assist: Optimizing Crew Deployment for Freight Trains” by Dasaradh Mallampati, Brian Roth, Poojah Dewan, April Kuo and Juan Morales, BNSF Railway, and Anant Balakrishnan, University of Texas at Austin
  • “Optimized Scoring Systems: Towards Trust in Machine Learning for Healthcare and Criminal Justice” by Cynthia Rudin, Duke University, and Berk Ustun, MIT
  • “Outcome-Driven Personalized Treatment Design for Managing Diabetes” by Eva Lee, Georgia Tech
  • “Dispatch Optimization in Bulk Tanker Transport Operations” by Ted L. Gifford, Tracy Opicka, Ashesh Sinha, Daniel Vanden Brink and Andy Gifford, Schneider National Incorporated, and Robert Randall, Princeton Consultants

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