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At the Ditman Hall State Training School for Boys, an attempted escape led by young Eddie Bassett results in the death of two other inmates when guards return fire in self-defense. Adverse publicity about the incident prompts an intense public outcry and demands for reform at the severe detention center run by warden Col. Ernest Walton. The governor meets with reporters to declare his support of Walton's handling of the school but also announces that psychiatrist Dr. Paul Furman has been appointed to serve as special advisor to Walton. The reporters are stunned when Paul voices his plan to make Ditman co-educational in an effort to create a more realistic atmosphere. A few days later, under Paul's plan, the school's name is changed to Ditman Youth Community and the girls from Larkin Home for Girls arrive accompanied by matrons Grace Hartwell and school system veteran Bess Monahan. Walton warns Paul about the danger of his plan, but Paul insists his appointment by the governor guaranteed him a free hand in student affairs. Despite Walton's advice, Paul has the boys in solitary, including Eddie, released. When Grace meets with Paul to pick up the schedules she questions him about his plans, but remains doubtful about the success of placing the boys and girls together too soon. That evening, Paul introduces the teenagers to one another in the dining hall. Eddie purposely sits next to shy Kitty Anderson and ignores the brazenly flirtatious overtures by Kitty's roommate Babe. Angered by Eddie and Kitty's immediate rapport, tough Stu Killion threatens Eddie and a fight breaks out between the two. Later, Walton berates Paul for setting up the conditions that prompted the brawl and reveals his intention to file a negative report to the governor about the feasibility of Paul's entire program. Paul meets privately with Eddie to ask him to refrain from fighting and although Paul promises to help Eddie, the boy remains suspicious. Meanwhile Bess suggests to Kitty that she temper her friendship with the boys, but when Kitty admits she likes Eddie, Babe is incensed and another fight breaks out in which Kitty is injured. Grace takes Kitty to the infirmary where they meet Paul who admits he expected an initial period of conflict among the students. Grace remains disapproving until Paul asks for her help and declares he wants what is best for the teens. Over the next several days, Paul conducts a series of personality and aptitude tests. Eddie submits to the tests warily, but grows angry upon learning that while hypnotized by Paul he admitted to an unpleasant childhood with abusive, drunken parents. Shortly thereafter, Paul announces to the teenagers that Ditman will begin a new training program based upon the results of the aptitude tests. Furthermore, Paul declares Ditman will no longer be a prison and the guards will be removed. Eddie, who has long been tormented by abusive guard Andy Quillan, remains determined to have revenge before the guards depart. That evening, Eddie and his friends Matches and Dink plot to attack Quillan before he leaves the grounds. When Paul sees the boys outside after hours he attempts to dissuade them from their plan but is severely beaten. Panicked, Matches and Dink return to their dormitory and Paul angrily tells Eddie he will not report him, but refuses to let his behavior ruin the entire program for the others. Over the next few weeks, the teens settle into Paul's recreational and artistic training program, but Eddie refuses to participate. At the first dance, Eddie reluctantly appears and while dancing with Kitty criticizes Paul and reacts angrily when Kitty sticks up for the positive program. After Eddie departs in a huff, Babe, in a prearranged plan with Stu, tells Kitty that she is no longer jealous of her and claims that Eddie has asked Kitty to meet him near the storeroom. Kitty then goes into the storeroom where she is attacked by Stu. Noticing Kitty's absence at the dance, Grace searches for her and attempts to rescue Kitty but is knocked aside by Stu. Grace's cries attract the other teens and Stu finds himself trapped in the hallway between the students and Paul. Stu viciously attacks Paul who is rescued by Eddie, who has been drawn back to the gym by the commotion. The attack receives front-page newspaper coverage and the governor meets with Paul to express his dismay at the lack of progress at Ditman. Despite Paul's protests that Stu was psychotic and did not belong at Ditman, the governor fires him. Within twenty-four hours, Walton reverts Ditman into a guarded reformatory and declares the girls will be sent back to Larkin. Walton then has Eddie returned to solitary to continue his punishment for his earlier breakout attempt. After enduring a beating by Quillan, however, Eddie knocks the guard unconscious, takes his gun and at the dorms exhorts the other boys to demand the guards be eliminated. When the other boys respond enthusiastically, Eddie breaks into Walton's office to get more arms and takes Quillan hostage. Walton reports the riot, which brings the governor to Ditman. Meanwhile, Kitty finds Eddie and pleads with him not to participate in further violence, but he ignores her. To Walton's dismay, the governor arrives with Paul who immediately insists on confronting Eddie alone. Eddie greets Paul with belligerence and hostility but Paul tells him his behavior only proves Walton's theories about the inability to reform problem youth. Paul pleads with Eddie to call a halt to the situation and allow him to help. With Kitty's added pleas, Eddie agrees and Paul is able to quell the other boys without further incident.