BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A lawyer convicted of stock fraud failed to convince a federal judge that the jail warden improperly and inexplicably kept him from obtaining a jigsaw puzzle.
Alan Berkun, who is serving six years in prison for securities fraud, said his family tried to order him the puzzle from Amazon.com, but Warden Duke Terrell at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center invoked a regulation that limits access to hobby crafts.
Berkun filed a federal complaint against the warden on First Amendment grounds.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson found Monday that the decision may have been unexplained, but it did not violate the Constitution.
“Here, the government has failed to articulate a reason for the prison’s refusal to allow Berkun to obtain a jigsaw puzzle,” Gleeson wrote. “It merely references the BOP regulations allowing prison officials to restrict access to personal property. But it is tautological to say that the justification for restricting a prisoner’s access to personal property is that prisons may restrict prisoners’ access to personal property. While I do not doubt that there are legitimate penological interests that justify restricting inmates’ access to recreational items such as jigsaw puzzles, the government has not explained what those interests are.
“However, that does not mean that Berkun is entitled to the relief he seeks.”
Berkun can blame Turney v. Safley, a 1987 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped prisons from banning marriage behind bars, for frustrating the right to puzzles.
“Turner applies to restrictions that impinge on prisoners’ constitutional rights,” Gleeson wrote. “If a restriction does not affect a constitutional right, then it need not be subjected to analysis under Turner at all. Thus, to obtain relief Berkun must demonstrate that he has a constitutionally-protected interest in possessing a jigsaw puzzle.”
The 14-page order continues later: “Berkun has failed to show that his possession of a jigsaw puzzle is expressive and therefore constitutionally protected. A jigsaw puzzle generally consists of an image that has been broken into a number of pieces, which are then reassembled. Even if the reassembled image itself were protected by the First Amendment, Berkun has not shown how the act of assembling the pieces is in any way expressive conduct. I therefore conclude that he has not met his burden of showing that the denial of his request to receive a jigsaw puzzle violated any constitutional right.”
Gleeson also disagreed that the recent ban is made arbitrary by Berkun’s history of piecing together smaller puzzles in the same prison.
“[Berkun] argues that there is no valid reason to limit him from receiving a jigsaw puzzle in the mail because he already received a smaller jigsaw puzzle without any apparent difficulties,” the order states. “But the fact that he received one puzzle, apparently in error, does not mean that prison authorities must allow him to receive another puzzle. Prison authorities may restrict access to items even though the prison mail room has the capacity to receive and screen them.”
Berkun is serving the rest of his sentence at a federal prison in Miami, which is subject to the same regulations.