Jail Inmates Sue County for Access to Dental Floss

Sunday, September 23, 2012
Santiago Gomez (photo: Westchester County Police Department)

Led by litigious inmate Santiago Gomez, eleven Westchester County, New York, jail inmates are suing the county for $500 million in federal court, claiming that the jail’s refusal to give them access to dental floss is ruining their teeth. Gomez, who has filed two other civil rights lawsuits against his jailers this year, told The Lower Hudson Journal News that “depriving inmates of the use of dental floss…is causing us cavities,” that lead to tooth loss owing to the poor dental care provided by the jail.


The trouble with dental floss, according to anti-floss prison authorities, is that it can be used for purposes that run counter to those of correctional institutions, such as to garrote a fellow inmate, cut through prison bars or braid a rope for escaping over a prison wall. Actually, research has not confirmed the use of floss as a garrote, and floss’s ability to cut iron bars has been called a myth by the popular TV show “Mythbusters.”


It is true that prisoners have used dental floss to escape, although it is rare. In 1994, Robert Dale Shepard made an 18-foot rope out of floss and then used it to scale the walls of a West Virginia prison. In 2002, Scott Brimble used dental floss and toothpaste to weaken wire mesh surrounding the exercise yard at Okanogan County Jail in Washington and then pried open enough of an opening to slip through.


Westchester Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne told reporters that state rules do not require the jail to provide dental floss to prisoners, but that “we are looking into whether there are appropriate items out there in the community that could be used in a jail setting.” Backing him up, R. Scott Chavez, vice president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), which sets standards on inmate care, claimed he had “never really seen dental floss being given to inmates,” although NCCHC recently advised its members that floss appropriate for jails is readily available.


However, based on his personal experience with a number of New York jails, Gomez told reporters that all of them “sell dental floss…‘loops’ which are inmate friendly,” probably referring to a product sold by Loops, LLC.


Gomez and the others filed the lawsuit “pro se,” meaning they did so without legal counsel, and have now requested the court to appoint an attorney to help them. The complaint names as defendants Westchester County, Corrections Commissioner Kevin Cheverko, two dentists who serve the jail, and Correct Care Solutions, which has a three-year, $45 million contract to provide health care at the jail.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Inmates, Denied Dental Floss, Sue Westchester for $500 Million (by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Lower Hudson Journal News)

Inmate Recalls How He Flossed Way to Freedom (Associated Press)


Leave a comment