MANSFIELD: Why Was Justin Jarmon on the Streets of Cleveland?


As Judge Stuart Friedman sentenced 18-year-old Justin Jarmon to more than four decades in prison for accidentally blowing off half the skull of a 3-year-old girl, and wounding her 9-year-old cousin (with errant gunfire meant for a rival gang member), the teenager once again became a child and began crying as he begged for forgiveness. Needless to say, he received none, nor did he receive any mercy.

Jarmon’s crime was no doubt heinous, but the 41-year sentence imposed by Judge Friedman (who is known to be relatively lenient with his sentences) was no less so. Only in America do we allow a violent young gangbanger — one who was very well known to juvenile court authorities for years — to roam the streets committing additional crimes, and then harshly drop the gavel on him in a brutal fashion after his dangerous activities harmed someone irreparably.

The question is why was Justin Jarmon allowed to be on the streets to commit such a senseless act in the first place when authorities knew who and what he was? No, they could not have predicted that he would commit THIS particular heinous act, but they certainly knew he was capable of — and prone to — such violence. Even a cursory look at his history should have alerted authorities to the strong probability that he would eventually harm some member of society. It was just a matter of time.

The question has to be, why Justin wasn’t temporarily removed from society until he grew out of his dangerously antisocial, criminal behavior? This systemic failure will cause a 3-year-old to grow up with half a head and many surgeries, and an 18-year old to spend virtually all of his life behind bars.

The answer isn’t that authorities couldn’t see this coming, or that they didn’t know what to do about Justin Jarmon. The answer is, they were more concerned about money than public safety.

A useful analogy is the so-called Positive Control System (PTC) for freight and passenger trains. If PTC had been installed on Amtrak tracks the crash that killed three people in Washington State a few weeks ago would not have happened. The train would have automatically slowed down, thus preventing the loss of life.

Why wasn’t the system installed? After all, back in 2008 Congress mandated it for all tracks and by law they were all supposed to be in place by 2015. However, the Federal Railroad Administration reported in March of this year that “as of the end of 2016, the automated safety technology had been activated on just 16 percent of tracks for freight railroads and on just 24 percent of passenger railroad lines.” The reason is cost.

But now that there has been a loss of life, the system will be installed on this portion of tracks in Washington State. Other portion of tracks around the country will simply have to wait until someone dies before the government does what should have done all along.

But back to Justin Jarmon. This young man had eight criminal cases as a juvenile (he was 17 when he fired the fateful shots), three of which were felonies. Please, read that last sentence again: Authorities had eight chances to stop this train wreck, but didn’t.

We’re talking about a youth who took to the streets as an 11-year old and never looked back. Again, Juvenile Court officials had multiple occasions on which they could have prevented this monster from victimizing an innocent child and condemning her to a wheelchair-bound life. However, a convoluted system which relies heavily on state funding is in place and it creates almost as many problems as it solves.

The girl has been in the hospital since being shot 14 months ago and she will never have a normal life. Her care will cost taxpayers literally millions of dollars over the years. Yet we couldn’t — or wouldn’t — spend the relatively small amount it would have taken to prevent this tragedy from occurring. Additionally, taxpayers will have to foot the bill to keep Justin behind bars for the next 41 years at a minimum of $26,000 per year, so that’s another cool million plus.

Yet officials will tell us they couldn’t find less the than $100,000 it would have taken to address Justin’s problems. Something is very wrong with this logic, and it has to do with lawmakers in Columbus really not giving a damn about kids that fall through the cracks, since these are offspring from that tribe known derisively as the “Other.” These are, for the most part, kids of color, and therefore are of no consequence to conservatives.

Justin Jarmon was on the street that fateful day because the juvenile system of justice in this state is set up in such a complicated manner that counties actually save money by not taking malefactors into custody and providing them with treatment. Every time he appeared in court Justin was told to be a good boy, don’t do it again, and then was sent on his merry way — to commit additional crimes. After all, if he killed someone, chances are they would not be white.

Of course, as a society, we should want to keep as many youth as possible out of the juvenile incarceration system; it should only be used when exceptional circumstances exist. Justin Jarmon’s life fit those exceptional circumstances.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, who personally attended Jarmon’s sentencing, vowed to crackdown on juveniles who commit gun violence, which would be an excellent start. However, one of the dirty little secrets at the prosecutor’s office is that none of the staff attorneys want to handle the juvenile docket, which is viewed as a career killer. As long as this is the reality, cases like Jarmon’s will continue to get short shrift and violence-prone young men will continue to be released back onto the streets as their cases languish in a system in dire need of overhaul.

And if prosecutor O’Malley starts to take on flack from soft-hearted and soft-headed folks — both black and white — who take the position that he is being too hard on these dangerous youth by locking them up until they grow out of their violent tendencies, he can tell them to come talk to me and I’ll set them straight. Better to lock them up for a few years now than to allow them to run wild and commit a crime that gets them locked up for multiple decades later.

Justin Jarmon tearfully apologized in court for his reckless actions that have forever altered a child’s life and crippled her future. But we as a society should be apologizing to both of these children since, because of our parsimoniously inspired inaction, they both were unnecessarily harmed, almost beyond repair.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at


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