Female prisoners seeking spiritual guidance and help in a California prison were exploited and forced to have sex with the chaplain.
On Wednesday, August 31, Chaplain James Theodore Highhouse received a seven-year sentence. He will begin his jail time on November 2 and is free on bail until then. When he is released, he will be registered as a sex offender.
He was sentenced to a lot more than the recommended punishment time for his type of crime. US District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. said, “It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was,” and that the guidelines “seriously underestimate the seriousness” of Highhouse’s abuse. Federal guidelines recommend 24-30 months. Prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence, and the chaplain’s lawyers fought for a two-year sentence. Probation officers who did an investigation into Highhouse’s crimes recommend a seven-year sentence.
Four other workers at the Dublin, California Federal Correctional Institution were charged with sexual crimes within the past 14 months. Highhouse was arrested in January 2022 and pled guilty in February 2022. He is the first of the accused five to be sentenced.
Highhouse told women that everyone in the Bible had sex. He tried to convince women that God wanted them to be together. He used his history as a military veteran to force one woman into intercourse on Veterans Day, justifying the rape by saying she was serving her country, and on Thanksgiving Day he said she was showing her gratitude for his spiritual guidance.
Highhouse, 50, was charged with abusing only one inmate and lying to police, although prosecutors state he abused at least six women, including a women he counseled at another facility.
According to a statement that was released by the Department of Justice, Highhouse taught spiritual classes about setting personal boundaries and self-worth, because he realized that many of the women he counseled had a history of trauma, abuse, and substance addiction.
One victim said, “Highhouse ruined my life — he truly did. 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.”
The facility was a den of abuse and cover ups, and prosecutors wrote in a memo that a counselor in the prison complained that inmates would snitch on the prison employees. This encouraged Highhouse to tell his victims they should not report him, including telling one prisoner, “No one will believe you because you’re an inmate and I’m a chaplain.”
Another inmate said that the chaplain raped her multiple times in his office wrote in a statement that the system is flawed and broken.