The former chief inspector of prisons has accused ministers, the Home Office and senior Prison Service officials of being "the enemy" of a successful penal system.
Sir David was strongly critical of the service while he was chief inspector
Sir David Ramsbotham will criticise the government's obsession with league tables while prison governors face an "avalanche of paperwork", in a book to be published next week.
He told the BBC the high rate of offending demonstrated that the current system was not working.
Sir David said the Prison Service was too focused on saving money and lacked purpose.
But the Home Office said ministers had not yet seen the book so were not in a position to comment on the claims.
Sir David told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If 88% of the juveniles that are going to prison re-offend within two years of release then there must be something wrong.
He said the Prison Service was failing to help prisoners "lead useful, law-abiding lives".
In his book Prisongate, Sir David said the "triumvirate" of ministers, Home Office officials and senior Prison Service figures were a "barrier to progress" within the prison system.
Sir David Ramsbotham prisoners needs are not being met
"Prisons should be looked at like hospitals. They are the acute part where treatment takes place.
"They have no control over who comes in but they have got to try and make them better," he said.
Appointed in 1995 by the then Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard, Sir David attacks both the Tories and Labour in his book for failing to address the problems in the prison system.
But he is particularly critical of Labour's handling of what he calls a "bogus" raid at Blantyre House Prison, in Kent, three years ago.
The controversial raid at the prison in May 2000 caused £6,000 damage in an operation and cost more than £20,000.
The operation uncovered only a small quantity of cannabis, three ecstasy pills and a few items of pornography.
The Times, which is serialising Sir David's book, reports that he felt the then prison governor Eoin McLennan-Murray was bullied and humiliated.
Sir David accuses the then Home Secretary Jack Straw and his prisons minister Paul Boateng along with former Prison Service Director General Martin Narey of failing to admit a "ghastly" mistake and standing by while a model governor had his name tarnished, it is reported.
Mr McLennan-Murray subsequently failed in seeking a judicial review of a Prison Service investigation into claims of bullying.