Campaigners are demanding the Scottish Government halts plans for a new women's prison, which they say will cause more social problems and reduce use of alternatives to jail.

A petition calling on Michael Matheson, the new cabinet secretary for justice, describes the construction of the new prison, to be built in Inverclyde, as a step backwards and says it runs contrary to the Government's own advice on women offenders.

Edinburgh Women for Independence, which is behind the petition said expert opinion was against the new establishment, while charities which work with women prisoners have also spoken out against the plans.

In a letter to Mr Matheson, the group says: "EWFI campaigned for a Yes vote because we wanted the full range of powers that independence would bring in order to tackle the inequalities and lack of opportunities in Scotland. But this is a problem where the solution is already in our hands. We urge the Scottish Government to do the right thing."

A 2012 report by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC, commissioned by the government, recommended a smaller specialist prison for the minority of women offenders who posed a significant risk to the public, with a greater focus on more effective community alternatives.

However the prison now proposed by ministers will replace 300 place HMP Cornton Vale with a new facility housing up to 350, and critics say it will encourage the courts to jail more women. The number of women imprisoned in Scotland has already doubled over the last two decades, according to campaigners, and Scotland jails twice as many women as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, per head of population.

Baroness Jean Corston, author of an earlier report on women offenders in 2007 has previously warned the project 'will fail', while Professor Andrew Coyle, former governor of Greenock, Peterhead and Shotts Prisons and renowned penal expert has described it as "a tragedy which will be with us for decades to come".

The contract for the prison is expected to be advertised in this month. Campaigner Maggie Mellon , said there was little time left to change ministers' minds. "Prison is an incubator of social problems and not a solution," she added.

"The last 20 years has seen the number of women in prison more than double, despite a drop in crime. Because of the lack of local facilities and services, many women are remanded in custody or sentenced to prison miles away from their homes and families. Building another large prison in an even less accessible place will perpetuate what is already an intolerable situation.

"It is within the current powers of the Scottish Government to make a real difference, and end a failed and failing policy inherited from the past.'