(Updated 4:25 p.m.) At the request of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Correction Department recommended closing Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire.

The level two, minimum security prison currently houses 220 inmates and closing it could save the state $3.4 million on an annual basis, according to Acting Correction Department Commissioner Brian Murphy.

Rell is considering the recommendation, but has not made a final decision.

In his letter to Rell, Murphy said the “decision to select a level two facility was in part influenced by the fact that minimum security offenders can always be housed in a higher level facility, while the opposite cannot be carried out in a safe manner.”

Over the past year, the Correction Department has closed two of the four housing units at Webster; the recommendation to the governor calls for closing the remainder of the facility except for the stand-alone building known as the Webster Annex. The closure, if approved, is estimated to take between eight and 10 weeks.

“I have made this closure determination based in part upon the current downward trend of our inmate population as well as the projections that have been calculated by the Office of Policy and Management,” Murphy wrote in his letter to Rell. “Those projections anticipate a sustained decrease in our population through January 2010.”

However, both Rell and Murphy agreed that if the prison population increases the decision about any prison closure should be reversed.

“The state prison population is currently about 18,300, down from nearly 19,900 in February 2008,” Rell said in a press release.

Dwayne Bickford, a correction officer and president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 387, said in an emailed statement that “Governor Rell’s decision to close a state prison in a system that is already overcrowded with inmates and understaffed with front-line workers does not make sense.”

“Closing Webster will put greater strain on already other overburdened facilities and services,” Bickford said. “We believe Connecticut’s prison system was set up to handle 15,000 inmates but currently houses more than 18,000 inmates.”

The capacity of the prisons is a hotly disputed issue, but AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman said the Correction Officers firmly believe the number is 15,000. Others have said it’s closer to 17,000.

The $3.4 million in annual savings seems like a drop in the bucket when the current state budget calls for the Correction Department to save about $63.9 million over the next two years. 

Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D-Enfield, who represents a community with several prisons said, she doesn’t see any major policy changes to lower the prison population in Rell’s press release.

The decline in prison population gives the state some time to think about its policy vision, Jarmoc said. Closing a facility when Connecticut’s inmate population continues to fluctuate would be short-sighted, she said.

But Jarmoc said it was difficult to comment since it was unclear if Rell would follow through with the recommendation.