Christine "Chris" Parker (Linda Blair) is a 14-year-old runaway who, after getting arrested one too many times, is sentenced to do time in a girls' juvenile detention center, which doubles as a reform school for the girls. It is revealed that Chris comes from an abusive home; her father (Richard Jaeckel) would beat her on a regular basis, which led to her repeated flights from home. Her mother (Kim Hunter) is just as troubled as Chris is; unfeeling, sitting in her recliner, watching television and smoking cigarettes all day, and in complete denial as to what her husband is doing. Only Chris' older brother Tom (Mitch Vogel) is aware of the abuse, but he is powerless to help Chris, as he has his own family to care about and look after.
Chris' social worker Emma Lasko (Allyn Ann McLerie) never realizes that her dysfunctional parents are the cause of her troubles, and that the juvenile justice system places the blame for her troubles on Chris herself. With the exception of one dedicated counselor named Barbara Clark (Joanna Miles), the reform school personnel are mostly apathetic and allow an unhealthy, destructive culture to fester in the school. Despite Barbara's attempts to help Christine talk about her problems, she is powerless as Chris refuses to open up to her or anyone else about her problems at home.
After a riot results in a beating of a pregnant detainee by abusive staff members, and in her miscarriage, Chris is investigated for causing the riot. She calmly maintains that she had nothing to do with it. In the final shot, Barbara looks on helplessly as she sees Chris, an innocent, intelligent, decent girl, now fully transformed into a violent, pathological, manipulative, vengeful and cold person, devoid of any guilt or remorse for her actions, who will most likely become an adult criminal when released upon turning legal age.
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