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Barack Obama ascends to the presidency today to be greeted by yet another little-mentioned paradox (detailed more in future blogs) of keen interest to criminal justice groups: he inherits record-high levels of drug abuse and imprisonment and record-low levels of serious crime. If any president has an eye for complexity and contradiction, it’s the student and community-activist Obama revealed in the first half of his first book, Dreams for My Father. That Obama amiably chatted with city boys hanging out on stoops, allied with teenaged mothers in community activism, and admired the perspectives of youths to educate their professional elders on realities of modern street life. Unfortunately, the politician Obama of later books and campaigns indulges easy clichés about youth violence,” drugs,” video games, TV, rap music, values, and, mostly, silence. Crime and drugs are political third rails for Democrats, in which any hint of original ideas perceived as soft” can bring withering attack. So, Obama has the capability to engage the following contradiction: (1) crime declined overall in both FBI and victimization surveys over the last three decades because youths and young adults showed massive decreases in offending, and (2) drug abuse and imprisonment increased because middle-agers show huge increases in addiction and crime. Consider drug offenses and burglary, once considered kiddie crimes. In 1975, the FBI reports, 432,000 youths and 51,000 adults ages 35 – 59 were arrested for these two crimes. In 2007, 279,000 youths and 582,000 middle-agers. The big drop in youth arrests and 10-fold leap in middle-aged arrests point to a larger reality: older offenders are much more likely to suffer serious drug habits, harbor lengthy criminal records, and commit more offenses per offender. Thus, they’re more likely to go to prison, reoffend after release, and get locked up again. To complete the irony, the massive drop in youth crime occurred as the teen population evolved from 18% white in 1970 to over 40% black, Latino, Asian, and other nonwhite today. FBI clearance reports show that both absolutely and relative to their population, youths today commit less serious crime than youths of 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago – that is, of any generation on record. Obama can ignore these dynamic realities by exploiting the same old 19th century political demagoguery founded in thinly-veiled racism to flatter aging constituencies and push more cops-and-lockup crackdowns against youth violence” and inner-city drugs.” Or, he can embrace today’s exciting new paradoxes to forge a 21st crime policy founded in community-based drug treatment, anti-poverty, and rehabilitation initiatives and a genuinely hopeful view of more diverse young people as agents of change rather than objects of fear.