Holyrood has backed a call for more women offenders to be given community sentences instead of being jailed.
Fewer women should be jailed, according to the justice minister
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said that in order to reverse a growing female prison population, more emphasis should be placed on rehabilitation.
The parliamentary debate came after figures revealed a 13% rise in the number of female prisoners in Scotland.
Ms Jamieson said a variety of alternatives to custody should be looked at.
The starting point should be to deal with problems before women reach the criminal justice process, she said, adding that support services and drugs treatment services should be readily available.
Ms Jamieson also called for criminal justice services, the courts and enforcement agencies to work more closely together.
The debate was welcomed by Dr Alison Elliot, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
She told BBC Scotland's news website: "Women's pattern of offending is quite different from that of men.
"Their circumstances on admission to prison are different and the way they cope with imprisonment is different.
"If we can concentrate on how to deal with women in the criminal justice system, we will learn new things about how to relate imprisonment to rehabilitation, what alternatives to prison might be appropriate and how offenders can be reintegrated into society."
Dr Elliot added: "We will learn more about ourselves and the society we have created and how its violence might be contained and overcome."