A former McLaughlin Youth Center juvenile justice officer received a more than five-decade prison sentence Friday for sexually abusing a 16-year-old female inmate, state prosecutors said in a statement.
Superior Court Judge Jack Smith sentenced 51-year-old Phillip Bigham to 57.5 years in prison about a year after a jury convicted Bigham of seven counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, solicitation and fourth-degree attempted escape.
Bigham resigned from his position at McLaughlin in November 2015 after he was questioned by his superiors about private contact he had with the teenage inmate. He had worked at the facility for more than four years.
An investigation revealed that Bigham had sexually abused the girl on several occasions while he was still working at McLaughlin and remained in contact with the girl through letters and phone calls after his resignation. In his communications, Bigham detailed how the girl could escape the facility, told her he had set up a room for her in his garage and promised to hide her.
Bigham was arrested in December 2015.
Assistant District Attorney Betsy Bull, the prosecutor in the case, requested the 57.5-year sentence because “Bigham abused both the authority and trust placed in him as a juvenile justice officer when he engaged in a sexual relationship with a vulnerable inmate,” the Alaska Department of Law said. Bigham, a first-time felon, had faced a minimum sentence of 20 to 30 years, with a maximum of 99 years.
Bigham’s sentence also includes 15 years of probation, and he must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.