The closure of Cornton Vale begins this year. It has a capacity of 375 and will be replaced by an 80-bed jail and five regional units holding 20 women each.
Canada closed its large women’s jail in the 1990s and built five regional units but it has had overcrowding issues.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told a BBC Scotland investigation Scotland’s plans differed from Canada’s.
He said “robust” community alternatives would need to be in place to divert people away from custody or from the courts.
Scotland already jails more women than almost anywhere in northern Europe, with the number of female inmates doubling in a decade.
There are concerns that without changes to sentencing policy and alternatives to jail there could be a temptation for sheriffs to think that prison was a more attractive option.
A criminal justice system designed for men
The BBC Scotland documentary – Women Prisoners: Throw Away the Key? – is presented by leading human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy.
She said: “One of the great scandals is that we have seen a massive increase in the numbers of women going to prison yet no significant change in the seriousness of women’s offending.
“Women very rarely commit serious crime. It is all low level offending and invariably is as a result of wretched circumstances.”
There are far fewer women in Scottish prisons than male inmates.
And they differ because they are more likely to be jailed for relatively minor offences such as shoplifting.
More women than men are put on remand – kept in prison before their case has been heard in court or before they are sentenced.
A spokeswoman from the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “Sentencing is a matter for the judge in each case taking into account the particular facts and circumstances.
“These may include the need for the courts to protect the public, to mark the seriousness of the offence and to secure the offender’s rehabilitation.
“Training is provided to all judges and sheriffs on the sentencing of women offenders. It is also made available on sentencing in general, including the sentencing options which may be applicable.”