The 500-cell new HMP Grampian will replace Peterhead Prison and Craiginches in Aberdeen.
The “community” prison will be the first of its kind in Britain to hold men, women and young offenders.
The Scottish Prison Service said it expects to invite bids in Spring 2011, with the successful contractor taking on the design, which will be worked to RIBA Stage D.
Work is expected to begin within the next four years.
The Scottish Prison Service last week tabled its application for planning consent with the local council.
A spokesman said: “A dedicated project team is continuing to work on delivering this major prison development.
“This prison is designed to hold all classes of offender and will be the first custom-built ‘community-facing prison’ in the UK.”
He added: “The site of the existing HMP Peterhead has already been identified as the preferred option for the new prison for the north-east of Scotland.”
The plan will likely see Peterhead Prison demolished and an application for listed building consent has been tabled with the local authority by property consultants Drivers Jonas Deloitte.