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Prison Chaplain Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Sexually Abusing Female Inmate

A former chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been sentenced to serve seven years in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing a female inmate at a Northern California facility and lying to federal agents about his misconduct.

James Theodore Highhouse, 50, was sentenced in federal court Aug. 31 to 84 months followed by five years of supervised release. He had entered a guilty plea to five felonies on Feb. 23.

The judge in the case specifically noted Highhouse’s “sustained predatory behavior against traumatized and defenseless women in prison.”

Highhouse began working as a corrections worker at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin, a Northern California federal prison that houses female inmates, in 2016. In his role as chaplain, he led religious services and provided spiritual guidance to inmates, including teaching religious-based classes about boundaries and self-worth. 

Officials said he also at times performed other duties, including handcuffing inmates, writing up incident reports, and referring inmates for disciplinary action.

According to court documents, the victim began seeking spiritual guidance and emotional support from Highhouse in November 2017, meeting with him alone in his office. From May 2018 until she reported him to federal authorities in February 2019, he sexually abused her in a series of escalating incidents. 

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The victim said Highhouse used Biblical parables and her religious beliefs to manipulate her and coerce her into submitting to him and told her that if she spoke out against him, no one would believe her, because she was an inmate and he was a chaplain.

Highhouse also lied to federal agents about his misconduct, officials said, denying engaging in sexual acts and sexual contact with the victim. 

Officials said Highhouse had received mandatory training on maintaining boundaries with inmates and on sexual abuse and prevention and knew that many of the women came from a background of trauma, abuse, and substance addiction.

“Within our corrections system, chaplains are supposed to provide hope and spiritual guidance,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “Instead, this chaplain abused his authority and betrayed the public trust.”

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the sentencing sends a clear message to Bureau of Prisons employees that abusing their position of trust will result in “serious consequences.” 

“The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is committed to rooting out wrongdoing and abuse by BOP employees and bringing perpetrators to justice,” he said. 

The FBI San Francisco Field Office and the Office of the Inspector General Los Angeles Field Office investigated this case. Special Litigation Counsel and Senior Sex Crimes Counsel Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

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Anne Stych

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