Prof. Sobol Testifies Before Commission on Civil Rights

March 28, 2017

Professor Neil SobolTexas A&M University School of Law Professor Neil Sobol, Director of the Legal Analysis, Research & Writing Program

Texas A&M University School of Law Professor Neil Sobol testified at a briefing, “Targeted Fines and Fees against Low-Income Minorities: Civil Rights and Constitutional Implications,” before the United States Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 2017.

His testimony focused on issues discussed in his article, “Fighting Fines & Fees: Borrowing from Consumer Law to Combat Criminal Justice Debt Abuses,” soon to be published in the Colorado Law Review.

“In my article, I examine whether the framework used to address debt-collection abuses in the consumer context should apply to the abusive collection and assessment of criminal justice debt,” Sobol said. “I argue that the rationale that led to the enactment of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to combat consumer collection abuses parallels the need for a federal statute.”

Sobol’s article emphasizes that a statute should be adopted to help the Department of Justice (DOJ) coordinate the attack against abuses in the collection of criminal justice debt.

In his testimony last week, Sobol asked policy-makers to adopt remedies in three broad categories:

  1. Set out prohibited practices;
  2. Establish mandatory best practices; and
  3. Encourage the DOJ to coordinate enforcement, education and outreach efforts.

Sobol has more than 10 years of practice in bankruptcy and consumer protection, with a scholarship focus on the collection of consumer and criminal justice debt.

“By applying consumer law concepts, I provide another perspective to addressing criminal justice debt,” he said. “Individuals with criminal justice debt not only share the consequences associated with consumer debt—including harassment, negative credit reports, and the adverse impact on financing and employment prospects, they may also face the creation of a criminal record, denial of welfare benefits, suspension of drivers’ licenses, arrest, and incarceration.”

“To combat abuses in the collection of criminal justice debt, we should learn from, and where appropriate, borrow from our experience in confronting abusive consumer debt collectors,” he added.

Court administrators, community advocates and criminal justice experts also testified at the briefing.

The Commission intends to use the hearing to help produce a report on civil rights issues related to criminal justice fines and fees.

- Article by Jennifer Nassar, Communications Specialist, Texas A&M University School of Law