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A former chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons was sentenced in federal court in the Northern District of California to seven years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for the repeated sexual abuse of an incarcerated female and lying about his misconduct to federal officials.
James Theodore Highhouse, 50, entered a guilty plea to five felonies Feb. 23, according to an Aug. 31 news release. Court documents noted Highhouse worked for the Bureau of Prisons as a corrections worker and a chaplain since 2016, and was assigned to work at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, a North Carolina-based federal prison which houses female inmates.
“Within our corrections system, chaplains are supposed to provide hope and spiritual guidance,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in the release. “Instead, this chaplain abused his authority and betrayed the public trust. The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute cases of criminal misconduct by Bureau of Prison employees and hold accountable those who fail to protect those in their custody.”
Starting in November 2017, the victim in the case repeatedly met alone with Highhouse, seeking spiritual guidance and emotional comfort, the release reported. From May 2018 to February 2019, when the victim reported him to federal authorities, she said she was sexually abused by Highhouse, escalating in frequency and severity over time. During this time, Highhouse used Biblical parables and the victim's religious beliefs to coerce her into submitting to him.
Highhouse reportedly engaged in this behavior despite receiving training on maintaining boundaries with inmates and attending yearly sessions regarding the prevention of sexual abuse, according to the release. The abuse was committed in the chapel office, and according to evidence presented in the hearing, Highhouse would discourage the victim from reporting him by telling her that no one would believe her because she was an inmate and he was a chaplain.
As a prison chaplain, Highhouse led religious services and offered spiritual guidance, the release reported. He also taught religion-centric classes about boundaries and self-worth, knowing that many of his attendees had experienced trauma, abuse and substance addiction. Highhouse also served as a custodian on occasion, allowing him to handcuff inmates, write incident reports and refer inmates for disciplinary action.
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to BOP employees that abusing their position of trust will result in serious consequences,” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in the release. “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.”
The sentencing announcement was made by Monaco, Horowitz, Justice Department Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and FBI Sacramento Field Office Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan, the release reported. The case was investigated by the FBI San Francisco Field Office and the DOJ-OIC Los Angeles Field Office. The case was prosecuted by the Special Litigation Counsel and Senior Sex Crimes Counsel Sara Gold of the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section.