A ministry statement said Chen used a towel to try to kill himself last night in a bathroom at Taichung prison in central Taiwan. It did not elaborate on how the towel was employed.
Without commenting on any injuries Chen may have suffered, the statement said he was in stable condition today at the prison, which is part of a hospital compound.
The 62-year-old is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption offenses committed during his 2000-2008 presidential tenure.
The statement quoted Chen as saying that he tried to take his own life to protest his corruption conviction, part of which was based on his use of a special presidential fund to carry out secret Taiwanese diplomacy.
The ministry said that in comments last night after the failed suicide attempt, Chen emphasised that using the fund did not constitute corruption.
Chen has been receiving special medical treatment in recent months because of a series of health problems, including a heart ailment.
His office has been pressing for his release on medical parole, citing his poor health and his depressed state of mind.
Last week Chen announced he was applying for readmission to the Democratic Progressive Party, the main opposition grouping, which he led during his presidency.
He left the party of his own volition after leaving the presidency in 2008.
The party has not formally responded to Chen's application, but current party leaders have made it clear they fear that his readmission could harm their attempts to cleanse the party of the aura of corruption.