Prison chaplain who used Bible parables to manipulate, sexually abuse inmate sentenced to 7 years

Unsplash/Emiliano Bar
Unsplash/Emiliano Bar

A former chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons was sentenced to 84 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for sexually abusing an incarcerated female and lying to federal agents about his actions.

Fifty-year-old James Theodore Highhouse, who formerly served as a chaplain for the Federal Correctional Institution Dublin was sentenced Wednesday in the federal court in the Northern District of California.

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

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“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.”

Highhouse had worked as a chaplain at a federal prison with female inmates, overseeing both worship services and religious study, as well as spiritual counseling.

Beginning in November 2017, according to court documents, Highhouse began meeting in his office alone with an unnamed female inmate, whom he began abusing from May 2018 until February 2019.

According to the Department of Justice, Highhouse “used Biblical parables and the victim’s religious beliefs to manipulate her and coerce her into submitting to him.”

“Highhouse did so despite receiving training on maintaining boundaries with inmates and attending yearly BOP refreshers about sexual abuse and prevention,” noted the DOJ.

“Highhouse committed sexual abuse in the chapel office, and according to evidence presented at the hearing, to keep the victim from reporting him and avoid detection, he would tell her that no one would believe her because she was an inmate and he was a chaplain.”

Eventually, the victim reported Highhouse to authorities, with the FBI and the DOJ Office of the Inspector General launching an investigation into his actions. During multiple interviews with authorities, Highhouse initially lied about his actions, denying any wrongdoing.

In January, Highhouse was arrested, making him the fourth employee of FCI Dublin to be charged with sexually abusing inmates within the past several months, according to The Associated Press.

Highhouse pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual abuse and lying to federal agents in February, with his sentencing initially being scheduled for July and with him facing the possibility of as many as 39 years in prison.

Special Agent in Charge Zachary Shroyer of the DOJ Office of the Inspector General Los Angeles Field Office said in a statement in February that “Highhouse held a position of great trust as a prison chaplain.”

“He exploited this trust and sexually abused an inmate under his care, and then lied in an effort to cover up his crimes,” stated Shroyer. “The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General will continue to root out this kind of abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

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