Francis will conduct the Holy Thursday afternoon service at the Casal del Marmo jail for minors on Rome's outskirts.
During the service, the pope washes and kisses the feet of 12 people to commemorate Jesus's gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died.
All previous popes in living memory held the service either in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican or in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, which is the pope's cathedral church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.
Vatican spokesmen said they could not recall an occasion when the service was held anywhere else.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio often celebrated the Holy Thursday service in a jail, a hospital, a home for the elderly or with poor people.
A pope is also bishop of Rome and the decision by Francis to hold the service in the prison was another indication that he intends to take that role seriously.
The Holy Thursday service is one of several during Holy Week, which for Catholics this year begins on March 24 with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday on March 31.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alistair Lyon)