Inmates at a New York county jail are attempting to sue for $500 million and access to dental floss.
Eleven inmates in the Westchester County jail in Valhalla say in a federal civil rights lawsuit that they are losing their teeth and suffering pain because they aren't allowed dental floss. Several say in the complaint that they brush three times a day, "tongue and gums included", but still get cavities and suffer bleeding gums, constant dental work for temporary fillings and mental anguish.
Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne defended the ban, saying "[dental floss] potentially can be used as a weapon". He would not be more specific, but said staff are exploring "whether there are products out there which would be appropriate in a custodial situation... maybe some sort of floss that breaks easily".
"But staff and inmate safety come first," he said.
The suit, filed on September 10 in Manhattan, says that when cavities develop, inmates are given only temporary fillings, which eventually fall out and lead to tooth loss or chronic pain. Inmates are denied crowns and root canals.
Santiago Gomez, the lead plaintiff, filed the lawsuit without an attorney. He says other jails permit flossing. The suit asks for $500 million for the alleged violations. The lawsuit names as defendants Westchester County, Correction Commissioner Kevin Cherveko, the company contracted to handle inmates' health care and two dentists.
A related story said that "in Texas, officials believe a prisoner used floss to cut his way out of his cell, then jumped a fellow inmate and knifed him to death. In Maryland, Illinois, West Virginia and Wisconsin, inmates collected enough floss to braid it into ropes and escape, or try to, over prison walls."
The TV show Mythbusters once tested whether an inmate could saw through a bar using floss fortified with toothpaste for additional strength. The show used a robot for its test and concluded that it was possible if a person kept at the task for eight hours a day for 300 days.