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Country Information and Policy Unit: Country Assessments

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is for the organisations concerned to decide whether to publish their comments. The Government have transformed the arrangements for producing the country assessments which assist caseworkers responsible for deciding asylum applications. For the first time, there is a dedicated unit in the Home Office doing this work; and a systematic and transparent programme for publishing the assessments and for regularly updating and revising them in the light of new information and of comments received from others with expertise or an interest in this field of work. We have set up a consultative group to help us develop effective approaches to this work, and have asked the group in addition to advise on the costs and benefits of an independent documentation centre.

None of the assessments produced by the Country Information and Policy Unit has been withdrawn. The assessment of Turkey has been delayed so that important issues can be worked through, but it will be published shortly, as will for the first time an assessment of Ethiopia.

The Country Information and Policy Unit has access to a very wide range of information and expertise and is continually developing and expanding its contacts.

Sex Offenders: Government Sponsored Research

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What Government sponsored research is currently being conducted into sex offenders; and what measures are currently being taken or considered by the Government to protect the public from such offenders.[HL3537]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The following studies are expected to be published before the end of this year:

    a literature review on sex offending against children;

    a study on risk assessment, aiming to provide advice to the police on how to assess the risks presented by convicted sex offenders in the community;

    a study on repeat victimisation of physically and sexually abused children; and

    thematic inspections on lifers by Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation.

Work has recently begun on the following projects:

    an evaluation of the sex offender register set up under the Sex Offenders Act 1997;

    a study on assessing dangerous offender risk in practice, aiming to review current police practice in assessing risks presented by sex offenders and others, and to identify good practice and the

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    organisational structures which facilitate effective risk assessment;

    a comparative study of risk assessment scales in use by the Prison Service and the Probation Service; and

    a survey of prison and probation officers' experience of using these scales. We are taking a range of measures to protect the public, for instance:

    the Prison Service runs sex offender treatment programmes in a number of establishments, and work is in hand to maximise the effectiveness of these;

    we give financial support to the Lucy Faithfull Foundation's Wolvercote Clinic for the treatment of sex offenders; and

    the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides for extended supervision for sex offenders for up to 10 years where appropriate, and for sex offender orders.

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    These orders will apply to convicted sex offenders who, on account of their present behaviour, are deemed still to pose a risk to the community. The courts will be able to impose conditions necessary to protect the community from serious harm, for example, by preventing offenders from loitering near schools and playgrounds:

    In May, the Home Secretary instructed officials to convene a group to identify, high-profile, difficult-to-place sex offenders in prison and assess the plans for their release, to monitor their handling and to consider any funding necessary to meet the likely additional accommodation costs;

    an interdepartmental working group is considering safeguards to prevent unsuitable people from working with children, and a joint Home Office and Department of Health working party is considering the management of people with severe personality disorders; and

    the Home Office is also working with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to improve the arrangements for housing sex offenders.

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