Fewer offenders are returning to prison as more employers are willing to hire former convicts, a government official said yesterday. Commissioner of Correctional Services Benny Ng Ching-kwok said there had been a slight but steady decline in the number of convicts returning to jail. 'The recidivism rate has been hovering just over 50 per cent,' Mr Ng said. 'However, in the past few years there has been a very welcome decline. We are just under 50 per cent.' The latest figures from the Correctional Services Department show the rate at which offenders are sent back to prison within three years of release to be 48.2 per cent for those freed in 1997 - down from 54.9 per cent in 1994. 'We are talking about very good crime prevention, how well we are able to equip the offenders with job-seeking skills and how the general public has become much more aware and prepared to give them a fair opportunity and not discriminate against them,' Mr Ng said. A department survey of 1,215former offenders last year showed that their chief concern was securing a job, followed by improving family relations and finding financial assistance. Former offender Wong Tin-chin, 27, now works in the the plastics industry. 'When you walk up a hill and somebody throws down a rope, you can climb back to the top,' Mr Wong said, referring to the support a former offender needs to return to normal life. 'If there wasn't a rope, we would just sink deeper and deeper.'