CHINESE officials claim that the prison system is successful in reforming criminals through labour, noting the low recidivist rate. The semi-official China News Service yesterday reported that only five per cent of freed prisoners recommitted crime. It said China had one of the lowest rates of crime recurrence, with less than 10 per cent of current inmates in prisons for repeated offences. It quoted Vice-Minister of Justice Zhang Xiufu as saying that China's criminal rehabilitation was unique and effective. ''China has a lot of ways to re-educate criminals, but the most distinct method is reform through labour,'' he said. Mr Zhang said many people committed crime due to their reluctance to work. But forcing criminals to work would let them observe the value of labour. Collective exercises could also teach them to be disciplined and to understand the importance of co-operation. Many prisoners, learning production techniques in jail, could usually secure a job after their discharge and had no need to commit crime again, he said. According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, there are about 150,000 people obtaining education certificates in prisons every year. The Ministry of Labour also grants 100,000 certificates on various technical courses to prisoners annually. Responding to criticisms against political education in Chinese prisons, Mr Zhang said the system had undergone an evolution. Having got rid of radical ideas, the current political education instead emphasised ethics and law, Mr Zhang said. The Chinese Institute on the Laws of Re-education through Labour vice-president, Wang Fei, said China's criminal rehabilitation programme created prospects for prisoners.