(Updated) A decline in the inmate population coupled with the need to find $63.4 million in savings over the next two years, has prompted Gov. M. Jodi Rell to ask the Department of Corrections to consider closing a prison.

According to the Department of Corrections, the inmate population is currently about 18,500, down from a record high of nearly 19,900 in February 2008. The agency attributed the decrease, in part, to the success of some re-entry programs and a full-time parole board.

Meanwhile, the state budget deficit has ballooned to $624 million and it has everyone in state government scrambling to find savings anywhere they can.

“Because of the agency’s efforts and re-entry initiatives, comprehensive and timely reviews by a full-time Board of Pardons and Parole and a new class of 125 Correction Officer graduates, we have an opportunity to build on those successes,” Rell said in a letterto Acting Corrections Commissioner Brian Murphy. “However, consolidating operations must be done – first and foremost – with the safety of the staff, the public and the inmates as a priority.”

While he understands the position the governor is in, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he’s concerned about consolidation.

Kissel, who has six prisons in his senate district, said it wasn’t that long ago he toured the prisons and “we’re still at or above population levels in a lot of these facilities.” He said he thinks the population is still higher than what the facilities were designed to accommodate.

He said he sees a higher number of incidents happening at Northern Correctional Institute, where some of the state’s most dangerous offenders are housed.

“I think there are a higher number of incidents and the types of incidents have escalated,” he said Friday. 

Rell asked the Corrections Department to study the feasibility of closing a prison and make its recommendation to her by Nov. 27.