Police and helicopters were trying to track the man, who was armed, after his brazen escape from the prison in the town of Sequedin.
Local administrative officials said the prisoner used explosives to blast through an airlock security door before making his way out of the facility with five staff hostages.
A source close to the staff said the blast had caused significant damage to the interior of the prison.
The prisoner, identified by state prosecutors as Redoine Faid, quickly released four of the hostages and fled in a car with one of them. The car was later abandoned on a highway south of Lille and set on fire.
The prisoner also freed his final hostage and then got into a second vehicle which is currently been tracked by police, local officials said.
"It happened very quickly, it was clearly very well organised, we are still busy putting the facts together," a local administrative official said.