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When three young girls escape from the Elmview Corrective School for Girls, the institute's psychiatrist, Dr. John H. Jason, is ordered to resign. The three escapees, Jane, Jackie and Loretta, are former runaways who have been sent to the school for rehabilitation. Thinking of his first day on the job, Jason reflects over his entire tenure at Elmview and tries to determine what he could have done to prevent his dismissal: Soon after his arrival at Elmview, Jason finds that the institution is demoralizing the girls rather than helping them, and that the girls are desperate to escape. When Dolores Guerrero, who was sent to the school on vagrancy charges, tries to make a break from Elmview, she is caught and promptly returned to school. Dolores then tells Jason that she is being tormented by her teacher and some other students. Jason's proposed reforms are met with disapproval by other staff members at Elmview, including Miss Ruth Levering, who opposes his work and claims that he is making promises to the girls that he cannot keep. Later, Jason is disturbed by Jane and Jackie's claims that they were recently sent to solitary confinement for attacking a supervisor, and are being forced to work ten hours a day. When Jason discovers that none of his recommendations have been carried out, he complains to Riggs, the head of the institution, but Riggs merely defends the school's strict disciplinary policies. In a private meeting with Jason, Miss Levering shows sympathy for Jason's efforts and confesses that she has compromised her beliefs by working within the school's corrupt framework. Another severe punishment given by Riggs results in the girls's attempting to burn down the school down. Their attempt is squashed, however, and they are punished by the sadistic Mrs. Beuhler, who turns a high-powered fire hose on the helpless girls. News of the punishment soon reaches Jason and Miss Levering, who rush to the girls's aid. Determined to put an end to the school's tolerence of such actions, Jason threatens to report Mrs. Beuhler, but Riggs persuades Jason into reconsidering his actions. Instead of filing the complaint, Jason strikes up a deal with Riggs that will allow Riggs to stay employed with Elmview and would give Jason the power to make policy decisions for the school. Shortly after taking over Riggs' duties, Jason implements his new program, which includes new classes, recreation time and other freedoms, and the girls show remarkable improvement. Time passes, and with new budgetary difficulties setting in, Riggs decides to stir up trouble for Jason in the hope that the school board will fire him. A rumor is circulated by Loretta, one of the girls, that Miss Levering is having an affair with Jason, and when Loretta taunts Miss Levering with the claim, she loses her temper and strikes the girl. Jason witnesses the incident, and although Miss Levering submits her resignation over the matter, Jason refuses to accept it. One day, Dolores is found dead of a hanging and Jason is immediately suspended. Mrs. Beuhler is put in charge of running the school, at which point Loretta, Jane and Jackie steal a truck and try to escape. Unable to come up with the answer to his question, Jason's thoughts drift back into the present, and he leaves Elmview disheartened. Later, Jane, finds Jason and Mrs. Levering and tells them that Mrs. Beuhler was responsible for Dolores' suicide. Jason and Miss Levering deliver this information to the board members, but as Jane and other girls have been intimidated by Mrs. Beuhler and Riggs, their accusations go unconfirmed. Jason and Miss Levering's hope for justice seems lost until Jackie, who has been on the run until now, bursts into the meeting and reveals the truth. Justice is delivered to Riggs and Mrs. Beuhler, who are placed under arrest, and Jason and Miss Levering celebrate their success with marriage vows.