Bail Debt


When someone is arrested, they are often required to post money bail in order to be released while awaiting trial. Many are ultimately never convicted of or even charged with any crime. Those who can afford to pay the full bail amount to the court will receive a refund at the end of their case if they appear for all their required court dates.

However, the average bail amount in California is $50,000, far beyond the ability of the average person to pay. Thus, many people turn to bail bond companies and pay a nonrefundable “premium” – usually 10% of the total bail amount – in exchange for securing their release.

Even this 10% fee is too high for most people to afford out of pocket and so bail companies offer the option of financing the premium amount, usually requiring a down payment followed by subsequent monthly payments. Bail bond companies also typically require at least one cosigner – usually a family member or friend of the person arrested – who takes on equal responsibility for repaying the debt. As a result, people arrested in California and their cosigners owe millions to bail bond companies.  These companies frequently rely on predatory practices, like deceptive advertising, unfair contracts, and harassment in their attempts to collect the debt. 

Public Counsel’s Consumer Impact team assists arrestees and cosigners who are struggling to repay their bail debt and those who have been the victims of predatory and illegal practices by bail bond companies. It also engages in and supports impact litigation aimed at reducing bail debt.

Public Counsel works to end the criminalization of poverty through policy change, impact litigation, and direct services and advocacy to address minor traffic citations, warrants, quality of life citations, related fines, and expungement. 

For assistance with a bail debt issue, visit our services page:

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