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Chaplain Sentenced For Repeatedly Sexually Assaulting Incarcerated Woman In Federal Prison

Though six incarcerated women accused Federal Correctional Institution - Dublin chaplain James Theodore Highhouse of sexual abuse, he pleaded guilty to five counts of abusing just one woman.

By Jax Miller
James Theodore Highhouse arrives for his sentencing hearing

A federal prison chaplain has been sentenced for sexually assaulting a female inmate and lying to investigating agents.

James Theodore Highhouse, 50, will spend the next seven years incarcerated in federal prison for repeatedly sexually assaulting an incarcerated woman between 2018 and 2019, according to a release from the Department of Justice.

As part of his sentence, Highhouse will also be subject to five years of supervised release and be required to register as a sex offender, according to the Associated Press.

Highhouse’s crimes were reported during a wave of sexual assault allegations against employees within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in recent years.

Highhouse began his employment as a chaplain in 2016 and was assigned to the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin in Northern California, about 30 miles east of San Francisco. According to the BOP website, it is a low-security prison for women.

“In his role as a prison chaplain, he led religious services and offered spiritual guidance to incarcerated women,” according to the DOJ. “He also taught religious-based classes about boundaries and self-worth, with the understanding that many of the women with whom he interacted came from a background of trauma, abuse and substance addiction.”

Highhouse’s responsibilities encompassed those of a correctional officer, as well, including his ability to document incident reports and place inmates in handcuffs, if need be.

Court documents show the victim sought out Highhouse for spiritual support and guidance beginning in November 2017.

In February 2019, the woman came forward and accused Highhouse of repeated sexual abuse that began in May 2018 and that the abuse “escalated in frequency and severity over time,” according to feds. Court documents state that Highhouse also preyed on the victim’s religious beliefs by using biblical passage to “manipulate her and coerce her into submitting to him.”

The assaults occurred in the privacy of Highhouse’s chapel office, according to the release.

“I felt so lost, hopeless, worthless and betrayed and truly do not know what to do or who to talk to about my problems,” Highhouse’s victim wrote in victim impact statement obtained by the Associated Press.

Feds say Highhouse committed these crimes despite his training on maintaining boundaries at work and annual “refreshers” about sexual abuse and prevention.

The FBI and the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into Highhouse, finding he lied about the alleged misconduct on two occasions: once during a Feb. 21, 2019 voluntary interview with feds; and then again during a Feb. 3, 2020 follow-up interview. In both cases, Highhouse denied any wrongdoing.

Other women also came forward and accused Highhouse of sexual misconduct, though he was only charged with abusing one victim. Highhouse was ultimately accused of assaulting at least six women between 2014 and 2019.

Highhouse was arrested in January and pleaded guilty to five felony charges in relation to the one victim on Feb. 23.

However, the statements of his other alleged victims were taken into consideration when U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. imposed Highhouse’s sentence, noting the defendant's “sustained predatory behavior against traumatized and defenseless women in prison.”

“It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was,” said Gilliam, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors said Highhouse told at least some of his victims that God wanted them to be intimate with him by citing sexual relationships written in the Holy Bible, according to the Associated Press.

On one occasion, Highhouse allegedly coerced one victim into a sex act on Veteran’s Day, describing it to her as her patriotic duty. On one Thanksgiving, Highhouse told another victim that sexual intercourse would be a way of displaying the victim’s gratitude to him.

Some alleged victims claimed that Highhouse offered himself up as a sex therapist, making invasive inquiries about the women’s sex lives and regularly inviting them to use his office for sex. 

Another claimed he raped her multiple times, stating Highhouse took her “ability to sleep at night” and her “ability to trust in the church.”

“Highhouse ruined my life. He truly did,” she stated. “I don’t even go to Church anymore because of him. I have no trust in the Church, and really, I don’t trust anyone because of what he did.”

Feds referred to it as systematic abuse.

“The Civil Rights Division is thankful that each of these women were willing to come forward and tell federal authorities what happened to them,” stated Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “As a chaplain, this defendant exploited an additional abuse of trust to facilitate his crimes.”

FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate also thanked the “brave women who came forward against their abuser.”

Highhouse is one of five FCI-Dublin employees recently charged with sexually abusing inmates following an avalanche of accusations within the wider BOP, according to the Associated Press. One is expected to plead guilty later this month, another faces trial next year, and another pleaded guilty in February but has yet to be sentenced.

In addition to those four men, the former warden of FCI-Dublin, Ray J. Garcia, was arraigned Wednesday for seven criminal counts of sexual abuse against three women. Garcia pleaded not guilty and is expected to face trial later this year.

In November, the Associated Press reported more than 100 federal prison employees had been charged with crimes since 2019.

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to BOP employees that abusing their position to trust will result in serious consequences,” said DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. “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 Associated Press continues to investigate the ongoing failures of the BOP, which aren't limited to the numerous sexual allegations: They include prison escapes, staffing shortages and crumbling infrastructure.

The investigation was prompted by the 2019 suicide of federal inmate Jeffrey Epstein.

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