In 1830, social activist Dorothea Dix began a successful movement to establish hospitals for seriously mentally ill people who were being housed in jails and prisons.

In 2015, 16 percent to 30 percent of the jail and prison population is seriously mental ill – the same percentage as before Dix took action. Once again, jails and prisons have become the mental health system in America.

Deinstitutionalization, a social policy initiated to give the mentally ill more freedom, has been an utter failure. Community resources promised as part of this initiative were never put in place or properly funded.

I speak from my personal experience as an occupational therapist working in state hospitals for the mentally ill in Illinois. Yes, there were large wards, but I never witnessed abuse.

There were beds for all (not mats on the floor). There were three meals a day (not gourmet, but healthy). There were social activities, vocational experiences and – most important – supervision of medication, not access to drugs and alcohol as self-medication.

The current system being an abject failure, it’s time to return to housing our vulnerable seriously mentally ill population once again in appropriate hospitals, not jails, mats on the floor, begging on street corners or sleeping in unsafe conditions.

Expenditures by the cities, towns and agencies left to respond to the needs of the mentally ill population have been affected by Medicaid changes in rules and regulations.

This is a greater problem deserving of more attention from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew than a handful of the mentally ill population who have accumulated some financial resources and neglected or did not understand that money comes with an obligation.

It is time for state and federal officials to acknowledge their failure and provide funds for returning to a policy of hospitalization for seriously mentally ill people.

Phyllis Kamin

Cumberland