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Ex-Prison Chaplain Gets 7 Years for Abusing Inmates

A former chaplain in a California women's prison, the first of five workers charged in the last 14 months with sexually abusing inmates and the first to be sentenced, was hit with a seven-year prison term, more than double what federal sentencing guidelines recommended, the Associated Press reports. 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 James Theodore 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.


Highhouse pleaded guilty to forcing women into sex when they sought his spiritual guidance. 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 Associated Press investigation revealed years of sexual misconduct at the federal prison in Dublin, Ca., 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.

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