Behind a closed chapel office door inside a federal women's prison in California, a chaplain forced inmates seeking his spiritual guidance to have sex with him, exploiting their faith and their powerlessness behind bars for his own gratification, prosecutors said. James Theodore Highhouse was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison—more than double the recommendation in federal sentencing guidelines. US 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, the AP reports.
"It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was," Gilliam said. Highhouse is among five workers charged in the last 14 months with sexually abusing inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, and the first to reach the sentencing phase of his case. Highhouse spoke briefly in court, apologizing to the women he harmed. Highhouse must register as a sex offender upon his release, Gilliam said. Highhouse, who was arrested in January and pleaded guilty in February, 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. While Highhouse, 49, was charged only with abusing one inmate and lying to authorities, prosecutors say he engaged in predatory conduct with at least six women from 2014 to 2019—including one he counseled at a veterans hospital where he worked before joining the federal Bureau of Prisons, where allegations were routinely ignored.
Highhouse, enabled by a toxic culture of abuse and coverups at the prison, 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. Earlier this year, an AP investigation revealed years of sexual misconduct at FCI Dublin, including allegations against the prison's former warden. The AP also detailed steps that were taken to keep abuse secret, such as ignoring allegations, retaliating against whistleblowers, and sending prisoners to solitary confinement or other prisons for reporting abuse. The four other charged Dublin employees are at various stages of their cases. Former warden Ray J. Garcia is scheduled to go on trial in November.
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