Highhouse and the “Rape Club”
Former chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), James Theodore Highhouse, 49, entered a guilty plea today in federal court in the Northern District of California to five counts for sexually assaulting a female inmate and lying to federal officials during an inquiry into his misbehavior.
According to court records, Highhouse was employed by the Bureau of Prisons as a correctional worker and chaplain from May 15, 2018, to February 9, 2019. He was assigned to work at FCI-Dublin aka the “rape club“, a federal prison that houses female inmates during that time period. In his capacity as a prison chaplain, he presided over religious services and provided spiritual advice to female inmates in the facility.
It was his intention to teach religious-based lectures about boundaries and self-worth, knowing that many of the convicts with whom he dealt had come from a background of trauma, abuse, and substance addiction. He was successful in this endeavor. This group of convicts met with Highhouse in a group setting as well as one-on-one in his office.
Highhouse also had a custodial function at times, which meant he had the authority to arrest convicts, make incident reports, and recommend inmates for disciplinary punishment. All BOP employees are mandated to have such dual abilities.
We covered FCI Dublin in various articles in the past such as others pleading guilty, the fact that the warden was also involved in this, and the senators have called for action regarding it. Additionally that a Prison Policy Working Group of seniors was formed to “promote communication” with the BOP.
Chaplin Highhouse and Exploitation of Trust
During the aforementioned time period, the victim, a female woman at FCI-Dublin, sought spiritual counseling from Highhouse, who was also a female inmate at the facility. Highhouse met with her in private in his office on a number of occasions over the year. As part of his guilty plea, Highhouse stated that he sexually assaulted the victim when the two were in his office having meetings together. He did so despite having received training on establishing boundaries with inmates, as well as having attended yearly BOP refreshers on the subject of sexual abuse prevention and awareness.
Afterward, when the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (Department of Justice-OIG) launched a federal investigation into his charges that he sexually assaulted an inmate, Highhouse repeatedly lied to federal officials about his actions. Furthermore, on February 21, 2019, he made false statements to federal authorities during a voluntary interview with the FBI, during which time he claimed that he did not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with the victim.
Afterwards, when the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (Department of Justice-OIG) launched a federal investigation into his charges that he sexually assaulted an inmate, Highhouse repeatedly lied to federal officials about his actions. Furthermore, on February 21, 2019, he made false statements to federal authorities during a voluntary interview with the FBI, during which time he claimed that he did not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with the victim.
Then, on February 3, 2020, during a follow-up interview, he mislead federal officials once more, this time by falsely denying that he had engaged in such behavior. He confessed that he continued to make such denials despite the fact that on August 14, 2019, he made a statement in which he admitted to having engaged in sexual activities and physical contact with the victim.
“Any law enforcement official who exploits their authority and position as a spiritual counselor, particularly by sexually abusing an inmate in their custody, must be held accountable for their actions,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The Justice Department will not stand for abuse and misconduct by its own law enforcement officials, and we will take action wherever needed to hold perpetrators accountable under the law.”
“The FBI and our Department of Justice-OIG partners take all allegations of sexual misconduct by employees of federal prisons seriously and are committed to swiftly investigating violations under the color of authority at all levels,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair of FBI San Francisco.
“Highhouse held a position of great trust as a prison chaplain. He exploited this trust and sexually abused an inmate under his care, and then lied in an effort to cover up his crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Zachary Shroyer of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Los Angeles Field Office.
“The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General will continue to root out this kind of abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The date for the sentencing hearing has been scheduled on July 6. Highhouse may face a sentence of up to 39 years in jail if convicted.
The FBI’s San Francisco Division and the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General’s Los Angeles Field Office are both conducting investigations into this matter. Fara Gold, Special Litigation Counsel in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.