Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini is to head an inquiry into how women are treated by the Scottish criminal justice system.
The commission will look at better ways of dealing with women offenders.
Sheriff Danny Scullion and Dr Linda de Casetecker will be the other two members of the commission, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said.
Scotland's only women's prison, Cornton Vale, has been heavily criticised by inspectors in the past few years.
The commission is being set up in the wake of the most recent inspection report, published in June.
Brigadier Hugh Monro, the chief inspector of prisons, said he had been "very disappointed" at the lack of progress at Cornton Vale.
He inspected the prison in February 2011 as a follow up to a visit in 2009.
Many of the problems at the prison - which is designed to house 309 inmates but currently holds almost 400 - were down to overcrowding, the brigadier said.
Speaking on a visit to Cornton Vale, near Stirling, Mr MacAskill said the commission would make recommendations to tackle overcrowding and "ultimately reverse" the rise in the female prison population.
It will report back to the Scottish government by February 2012.
Mr MacAskill said: "Danny Scullion and Linda de Caestecker are respected individuals in their fields and will bring considerable experience in criminal justice and public health to look at one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time.
"The number of women in prison has more than doubled over the last decade - this situation cannot go on.
"We must find a more effective way of dealing with these women in the 21st Century and this independently-chaired commission will help us to do that."
Mr MacAskill added that "turning the tide" of re-offending rates would also help society as a whole.
The announcement of the commission also follows a study in March 2011 for the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research which found that the number of women in Scottish prisons had almost doubled over the past 10 years.
Researchers said the numbers had risen despite there being no evidence that women were committing more crimes.
The report concluded that Scottish courts were increasingly likely to give custodial sentences to women and were imposing longer jail terms.