Consumer Protection Law May Hold Key to Challenging Bail Bonds Industry


News from LCCR – SF Bay Area

April 17, 2019

Contact: Matt Kovac, 510-9601

Consumer Protection Law May Hold Key to Challenging Bail Bonds Industry
New Harvard Law Review article rewrites playbook for civil rights advocates

SAN FRANCISCO – A groundbreaking new article in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review argues that bail bond companies are liable for a myriad of abusive consumer practices, opening them up to legal challenge. It was authored by attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), the National Consumer Law Center, Iowa Legal Aid, Make the Road New York, and the UC Berkeley School of Law.

The article, “Crimsumerism: Combating Consumer Abuses in the Criminal Legal System,” spearheads a new approach to holding the $2-billion-a-year bail bonds industry accountable. It highlights a number of predatory industry practices, including charging undisclosed or illegal fees, misleading consumers about contract terms, illegally threatening to send them back to jail for unpaid debt, and wrongful property seizures.

“For decades, the bail bonds industry has operated as if consumer law doesn’t apply to them. This article shows they’re wrong,” said co-author Danica Rodarmel, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with LCCR. “Families caught up in the legal system face some of the most predatory contracts imaginable. But whether it’s bail bonds or credit cards, people have legal protections against being fleeced by big corporations. You don’t lose those protections when you or a loved one go to jail or prison.” 

Bail bonds companies are part of a wider ecosystem the authors term crimsumerism, defined as the “coerced consumption of punishment.” Even involuntary consumers, like incarcerated people forced to pay up to $1 a minute for phone calls, are still covered under consumer protection laws, they argue.

“From supervisory monitoring to prison services to court-ordered rehabilitation programs, the American corrections industry offers—indeed, frequently imposes—a range of high-cost services to low-income consumers facing extreme pressures and limited choices,” write the authors.

The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review publishes the latest innovative legal scholarship on civil rights issues.

Read the full article here.