WESTMINSTER – At 5 feet 3 inches and 145 pounds Timothy Schlauch doesn’t resemble the muscle-rippled prison guards portrayed in the movies.
But then again, the criminals he supervises aren’t locked up in jail cells – they could be your next-door neighbors.
Schlauch owns a home detention company that monitors about 50 non-violent offenders whose crimes range from marijuana possession to second-degree assault. In terms of severity of punishment, home detention falls between prison time and the limited supervision of probation.
Ubiquitous in Annapolis this year, Schlauch spent the session lobbying for a bill to help the home detention industry. The session gave him a taste of legislative life and now he is contemplating a run for state Senate in a district shared by Frederick and Carroll counties.
Schlauch has not always been the overlord for criminals serving time in the community. In fact, he had no corrections experience before going into home detention six years ago. He opened his own company, Alert, in 1997.
His main office, in downtown Westminster, looks more like a doctor’s office then the check-in point for home detainees – for good reason. Schlauch doesn’t just baby-sit convicts, he provides counseling as well. A certified addiction counselor and hypnotherapist, Schlauch’s specialty is combining therapy with home detention supervision.
Schlauch, whose name sounds like plow, decided to become an addiction counselor after watching his brother fall prey to drugs around age 13.
“Because of his addiction … the disruption in the family and the community, I wanted to help other people who have that problem,” he said.
And so he gave up three jobs – as a substitute teacher, taxicab driver and banana pier laborer – his Porsche 940 and his apartment and moved home to take a job as addiction counselor trainee in 1976 for less than $6,000 a year.
After a 1994 court date when the judge gave Schlauch and a client’s attorney the option of finding a private home detention company for the client in lieu of jail, he and the attorney, Charlene Dunn, decided to go into the business.
But the partnership didn’t last. After three years, the two split, with Schlauch filing a lawsuit against Dunn. Neither would discuss the pending litigation.
“Basically, you’re asking me to comment on Mr. Schlauch’s character and when I can’t say something nice, I’m not going to say anything,” Dunn said.
To Schlauch, home detention is not only a business, but a community service – a theme he touches on often as he sits comfortably in one of two overstuffed chairs in his office.
Growing up in South Baltimore, Schlauch, 46, said he learned the value of community. At an early age, Schlauch ran errands and did chores for the elderly in his neighborhood for five cents here and a quarter there.
The fifth of seven children, he didn’t even have his own bed until age 16. He shared one with his older brother.
“When you live with nine people in a house, you have to have dreams because it anesthetizes you from the pain of not having things that others might have,” Schlauch said.
After 23 years in the field, Schlauch said one of the most common traits he finds among addicts and home detainees is low-self esteem. With counseling, “they find out `Gee, I’m not that bad after all,'” he said. “When you talk about recovery, you have to talk about changing your thought processes.”
Detainees pay Schlauch, at most, $13 a day for his supervision. Schlauch likes to compare this to the average cost of about $52 a day to house an inmate in a state prison – highlighting the savings to taxpayers.
Surrounded by books like the DSM-IV, the diagnosis manual used by psychologists, Schlauch talks about the inferiority complex he had when he was young.
Plagued by big ears accentuated by a shaved head, Schlauch was tagged “bent ear” by other children. But he vowed “to demonstrate to people that, `Hey, I might have big ears and you called me this or that, but I’m successful.'”
Striving for more than just small business success, Schlauch descended on Annapolis in January to push a bill giving judges throughout the state the authority to sentence criminals to home detention – only judges in a handful of counties have the authority now. The bill was killed five minutes before the session ended for the year.
Rex Smith, president of a juvenile and criminal justice consulting firm, worked almost every day this session with Schlauch. Smith, who resembles a cigar-smoking Kenny Rogers, said the rookie performed well.
“As one who’s been involved in the legislative process … for 30 years, I can say he did an exceptionally credible job, particularly for someone who had no prior experience dealing at that level,” Smith said. “As the old singer who I’m often confused with said, he learned when to hold them and when to fold them.”
Lurking about the halls of power may have made the addiction counselor a political junkie. He’s seriously considering a run for state Senate against Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick.
As a Democrat, he would face a tough race in one of the state’s Republican strongholds. But he believes his potential constituents aren’t getting all they could by sending a Republican to the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Ferguson said he was unimpressed by Schlauch’s lobbying performance this session.
“I think it’s typical Democratic mercantilism where Democratic business people belly up to Democratic politicians,” he said. “Apparently, he doesn’t think it’s good enough to make money off crime. He wants to write legislation on crime.”
Whether or not he decides to make a run at state politics, Schlauch will continue trying to help his community. As his bumper sticker points out, “Democrats make great leaders. You’re following one.”