A chaplain working at a California federal women’s prison will be spending seven years in prison for “egregious” sexual abuse against inmates.
Prosecutors said James Theodore Highhouse exploited the inmates’ faith and powerlessness while behind bars to force them to have sex with him. Religion News Service reports:
“James Theodore Highhouse was sentenced to seven years in prison — more than double the recommended punishment in federal sentencing guidelines. U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. said the guidelines, which call for a sentence of less than three years, ‘seriously underestimate the seriousness’ of Highhouse’s conduct.
‘It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was,’ Gilliam said.”
The chaplain is one of five workers charged with sexual abuse in the past 14 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California. Highhouse is also the first who got to the sentencing phase of his case.
“Highhouse spoke briefly in federal court in Oakland and apologized to the women he harmed. Gilliam ordered him to begin his prison sentence on Nov. 2, allowing him to remain free on bail until then. He must register as a sex offender once he’s released from prison.
Highhouse would tell women he abused at the Bay Area lockup that everyone in the Bible had sex and that God wanted them to be together, prosecutors said.
An Army veteran, he pressured one inmate into intercourse on Veterans Day by telling her she needed to serve her country and on Thanksgiving by telling her she needed to show her gratitude for him, prosecutors said.”
Even though the man was only charged with abusing one inmate and lying to the authorities, prosecutors stated he engaged in the same type of predatory conduct with at least six other inmates from 2014 to 2019. His victims allegedly included a woman he counseled at a veteran’s hospital, where complaints were routinely ignored.
“‘Highhouse ruined my life — he truly did,’ one inmate said in a victim impact statement. ‘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.’
Highhouse warned victims not to report him, telling one of them, ‘no one will believe you because you’re an inmate, and I’m a chaplain,’ prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
At the same time, a prison counselor would rail about inmates ‘snitching’ on employees.”
The man’s lawyers asked for a two-year sentence, while prosecutors sought 10 years. The seven-year sentence is based on the probation officers’ recommendation after conducting Highhouse’s pre-sentence investigation.
“‘Within our corrections system, chaplains are supposed to provide hope and spiritual guidance,’ Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. ‘Instead, this chaplain abused his authority and betrayed the public trust.’
In their sentencing memorandum, Highhouse’s lawyers noted that he served as an Army chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan, is seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and cares for his elderly mother after his father’s death this year. He has no prior criminal history, they wrote.”
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