Chaplain at Dublin Federal Prison Sentenced for Sexually Abusing Incarcerated Woman

By The Vanguard Staff

DUBLIN, CA – A former Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) chaplain here at the Dublin federal facility has been sentenced in the Northern District of California to 84 months in the Dublin prison for repeatedly sexually abusing an incarcerated female and lying to federal agents.

James Theodore Highhouse, 50, previously pleaded guilty to five felony charges last February. He had been a corrections worker and chaplain since 2016 at the Dublin facility, that houses female inmates only, according to a statement Friday by the Dept. of Justice.

Highhouse “led religious services and offered spiritual guidance to incarcerated women. 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. At times, Highhouse also performed a custodial role, that is, he could handcuff inmates, write up incident reports and refer inmates for disciplinary action,” said BOP.

The judge in the case said they “considered the defendant’s systemic abuse of the victim as well as the accounts of other women whom the defendant subjected to sexual misconduct, noting the man’s “sustained predatory behavior against traumatized and defenseless women in prison.”

According to court documents, starting in November 2017, the victim “sought spiritual guidance and emotional comfort from Highhouse (who) regularly met with her alone in his office, but the investigation revealed until the victim reported Highhouse in February 2019, he sexually abused her.

“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,” according to the DOJ statement.

Highhouse, prosecutors note, “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.”

“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. 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.”

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to BOP employees that abusing their position of trust will result in serious consequences,” said Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, adding, “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 Civil Rights Division is thankful that each of these women were willing to come forward and tell federal authorities what happened to them, even after being treated so egregiously by someone who swore a constitutional oath to ensure they were free from sexual assault in custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

Clarke added, “As a chaplain, this defendant exploited an additional abuse of trust to facilitate his crimes. This case demonstrates that the Civil Rights Division will not allow such conduct to occur with impunity.”

Federal investigators said Highhouse lied to federal agents about his misconduct, “knowingly made false statements when he denied engaging in sexual acts and sexual contact with the victim. Then, during a follow up interview on Feb. 3, 2020, he again misled federal agents when he continued to deny engaging in such conduct.”

“Today’s sentencing is possible thanks to the brave women who came forward against their abuser,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate, adding, “The defendant not only abused his position to commit monstrous crimes against his victims, but also tried to coerce them into silence and lied to federal agents.”

“The FBI is grateful for the courage of all the victims who came forward to report their victimization and help bring James Highhouse to justice,” said Sacramento Field Office Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan.”

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