In his most outspoken speech since becoming chairman of the Prison Reform Trust, the former home secretary accused governors and "wobbly" management of wasting taxpayers' money.
He singled out Brixton, Wormwood Scrubs, Preston and Exeter prisons for special criticism, saying: "There is a sickness which persists, which needs to be ... cured. The sickness in some of our prisons is a disgrace and a danger."
He also criticised the Prison Officers' Association, which he described as "arguably the last exponent of those old destructive union attitudes which did such harm to Britain's public sector in the past".
Lord Hurd's comments, at the Bourne Trust annual lecture in London, follow an admission last week by the Prisons minister, Paul Boateng, that Brixton was a "failing institution" and that he would "no longer tolerate" its failure to deliver on standards. He gave the jail a year to better its performance, or face the prospect of privatisation.
"I have no ideological compunction about saying that if the private sector can deliver better, more effective regimes in a safe and secure context for prisoners, then the private sector will be given its head to deliver that," Mr Boateng said.
Lord Hurd believes that the Prison Service should introduce contractual obligations for every publicly run prison with Governors facing dismissal if they fail to deliver.
He said that prisons had done well in the comprehensive spending review, gaining pounds 200m to improve regimes, and jail chiefs could not blame their failings on lack of resources. "There is something amiss here which money cannot cure. Is it wobbly management, unsure of its authority, moving too fast round the circuit, leaving key jobs unfilled at critical times?"Reuse content