Image: © Dennis Sylvester Hurd

Drug-dealing teens escape jail thanks to their grasp of grammar

A judge decided not to give two drug dealers a jail sentence because their texts were composed in perfect English.

What it means: Two British university students were arrested for planning to sell weed (which is a drug that is illegal to possess, grow, distribute, sell or grow in the UK). The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, but they wound up instead with 100 hours of community service. The judge who made this ruling said he’d been impressed with their ability to write texts in correct English and did not want to “fetter the prospects” of either of them.

There’s a good economic argument for not handing out jail sentences like sweets: going to prison really mucks up peoples' economic chances. You can’t work while you’re locked up, and after you’re released, stigma from employers means you’re less likely to be offered a job. Only about a quarter of ex-prisoners get work after their sentence is up.

That might well mean they turn to government benefits for their income instead, which is paid for by taxpayers. Taxpayers also pay to keep someone in prison: each prisoner costs an average of £32,500 per year (about the same as you’d pay to send your child to Eton, a posh private school).

British taxpayers might feel it’s worth shelling out to keep dangerous criminals like murderers and rapists away from people they could harm. But considering the majority of them think cannabis should be legal, they may be less interested in having to give up some of their paycheck to punish two teenagers.

That doesn’t mean some people aren’t still outraged about a judge using education level as a yardstick for how much someone should be punished. People from poorer backgrounds tend to have less education, and are therefore are less likely to have perfect grammar and spelling. And the law is meant to be fair, not skewed towards the rich.

Read our explainers on status in society and economic values.

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