Getting to the heart of the matter: Understanding how families maintain relationships with a loved one in detention and potential for communicating by audio visual link

J.D. Murphy1,2*, K.L. Goodwin2,3

1 Design4Use Pty Ltd
2 Department of Justice NSW
3 Matchbox Studio

*corresponding author:

Currently, the primary mechanisms for families to communicate with loved ones in detention centres in NSW in real time are telephone calls and in person visits to the detention centre.

With the increasing use of technology throughout the Justice sector, the use of remote audio visual link (AVL) is now starting to be adopted as an additional mechanism for communication.

This research study goes beyond the usual mechanisms of survey and interview and employs a diary method in a longitudinal qualitative study to gain a deep understanding of the experience of families communicating with a loved one in detention and by extension their needs and expectations of an audio visual link service to support this communication.

Findings suggest that AVL be thought of as a separate type of communication somewhere between a call and a visit. It has significant advantages of enabling people to see one another’s expressions, show photos, and be ‘hands free’. It supports family members to know how their loved one is going by virtue of being able to see them, and enables the possibility of reversing the visit context in contrast to in-person visits where the visitor is exposed to the detention environment.

The study concludes that policy, rules and guidelines for AVL communication between family and loved ones in detention should be developed independently of those for in person visits or phone calls. Ideas and expectations from participants include anticipation of monitoring, specific terms and conditions of use enforced on an individual basis, a flexible booking system, and access from portable devices, as well as a provision to connect with support from accessible locations.

The presentation will include (anonymised) poster-sized visual profiles of participants with excerpts and images from diaries, and a visual model for describing the ‘rollercoaster’ user experience of a prison visit.


John Murphy specialises in bringing the voice of the end user to design of software to create successful systems.He has over 20 years consulting experience including the Department of Justice in NSW and Victoria for five years through his company Design4Use.Qualifications: Masters Degree in Human Computer Interaction, University College London.

Kate has over 12 years of experience in design, technology and user experience. She works closely with key stakeholders from strategy through to product delivery.Kate has consulted to the NSW Department of Justice since October 2015. Qualifications: Master of Science in Information Systems, University of Melbourne.

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