A MAGISTRATE has launched a stinging attack on conditions for inmates of a North prison, labelling them “a disgrace”.

John Bacon, who was mayor of Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in 1982-83, has highlighted the fact that prisoners at the town’s Young Offenders’ Institution (YOI) are forced to eat meals in their cells – many of which also contain toilets.

Mr Bacon, of Richmond, accused Government ministers of failing to meet inmates’ basic human rights.

The issue has been taken up by independent monitoring boards (IMB), which looks into the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Bacon said: “I reviewed the last four annual reports submitted to the Prisons Minister from the chairman of the IMB responsible for Northallerton YOI.

“In each of the reports, the IMB has raised its consistent objection to offenders having to eat in cells with lavatories.

“This treatment of prisoners is further compounded, as Northallerton YOI frequently doubles-up cell occupancy due to prison overcrowding.

“Requiring offenders to eat their meals in a small cell with a lavatory, especially when in double occupancy, is a public disgrace, and an ongoing and obvious breach of the required humane standards accepted by the Prison Service.

“Those in authority who remain silent and still at such treatment of our fellow human beings are not fit for the public office they hold.”

The magistrate was keen to point out that he is not critical of staff at the prison, but the protocols that they work under. He said: “The prison staff are doing an excellent job in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Northallerton YOI is the oldest operational prison in the country, having been established in 1783.

Mr Bacon called for communal dining areas to be installed at the prison, saying it should otherwise be condemned as unfit for purpose.

The Prison Service, part of the Ministry of Justice, said it was “impossible” to allow prisoners at Northallerton YOI to dine anywhere but in their cells.

A spokesman said: “National prison population pressures continue and it is therefore necessary to maximise use of all available places, meaning that a greater number of prisoners are required to share cells.

“Cells will only be used to hold two prisoners where the prison manager has assessed them to be of adequate size and condition for doing so.

“Due to the age, design and structure of Northallerton YOI, it is impossible to allow prisoners to dine out of cell.

“In addition, the high prison population and shortfall of accommodation means that Northallerton is operating close to capacity, and its responsibility to keep offenders in a safe and secure environment at all times could not be achieved without in-cell dining.”

■ Questions still remain over why a £575,000 compensation payment was made to an inmate at Northallerton YOI.

The Home Office has said it is not in the public interest to reveal why the public money was handed over, but the decision to keep the details secret had been widely criticised by MPs and prison officers.