LANSING — Gov. Engler's attempt to use privatization to control Michigan's prisoner health care costs — some of the highest in the nation — is coming under fire because of the state's use of a company that stands accused of failing to provide quality care here and in other states.

The administration recently agreed to pay $250 million over five years, without bid, to St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (CMS), in an expansion of the company's contract critics say is unwarranted because of the company's track record.

Although inmate health-care costs have stabilized since 1998 when CMS took over, critics cite numerous lawsuits against the company, both in-state and in 11 other states, alleging medical negligence. Others involved in the controversy say CMS is under fire because the Michigan Legislature granted it the power to privatize government medical jobs under its purview, which threatens the power of public-sector unions.