Heeren headshot with Old Capitol dome in background

Heeren on Grant to Study Mental Health Disparities in Jail Populations


Tessa Heeren, evaluation research specialist in the Health Policy Research Program, is part of a team at the the Law, Health Policy & Disability Center (LHPDC) that was recently awarded a $35,000 grant from the Nellie Ball Trust Research Fund to support a one-year research project in collaboration with Polk County Health Services (PCHS) and the Polk County Jail Diversion Program.

The team will study how people with mental illness are disproportionately represented in jail populations and lack connections to services and support necessary for stability and safety. Their research aims to identify factors associated with positive and negative outcomes to better understand and improve the Polk County Jail Diversion Program. 

LHPDC is one of many centers and institutes connected to the College of Law. The centers and institutes at Iowa Law do important work across subject matters. They collaborate with faculty across the university and provide students with rich opportunities for education, service, and scholarship through research assistantships. LHPDC conducts research in the areas of law, health, and disability and is the independent evaluator of disability services for the Polk County MDHS Region.

Heeren, who is also a research manager at LHPDC, said, “Jail shouldn’t be a person’s first encounter with mental health treatment, and while jails have some capacity for social services, arrests exacerbate problems for people with mental illness and ongoing community-based support is needed.” She added, “We’re aiming to provide evidence to justify the allocation of resources toward preventive services, which benefit the community in both cost-effectiveness and wellness.” 

Read more about the project here.