A young and pregnant widow goes to prison and finds she has to cooperate with criminals to get paroled out of the hellish situation.
Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) enters prison and is interviewed; she was an accessory to robbery by her husband. A nurse examines her and learns she is pregnant, but Marie’s husband is dead. She is put in isolation for two weeks with a sick woman.
Warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead) offers Marie friendship, and Marie cries. Matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) tries to get money from Marie or her relatives and tells her to scrub the floor. Georgia Harrison (Gertrude Michael) is from a wealthy family and denies forging checks. At night a woman cuts an artery.
Marie works in the laundry. Kitty Starke (Betty Garde) asks Marie to go into shoplifting. Marie says no and is left alone. June (Olive Deering) blames her husband for her two convictions and is denied parole. Evelyn says she is going on a date and leaves. At night Marie sees June hanging. Marie has her baby a month early. Benton reprimands Harper for not warning her about June. Benton wants to fire Harper but can’t.
Benton tells a commissioner that her budget is inadequate. Marie gets to see and hold her baby. Marie’s mother visits and tells her she can’t take the baby. Marie goes before the parole board of three men, who deny her because her stepfather won’t take her in. Marie runs out and tries to escape.
Vice queen Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick) arrives; she has money for Harper and hates Kitty. Marie shows Kitty that she can steal. At Christmas, Benton lets women keep the lipstick that Elvira got them. Harper puts Kitty in solitary.
Marie finds a cat and brings it in. During count Harper hears the cat, and Marie gets into a fight with her. Harper escapes, and the women destroy things. Benton takes away all privileges and gives Marie solitary for three days. Harper shaves off Marie’s hair.
Benton demands that Harper be dismissed. Harper calls her powerful friend, and a newspaper reports prison immorality. Two commissioners threaten to fire Benton, who says she’ll demand a hearing. Marie comes back, and the women make noise. Elvira apologizes to Kitty. In the dining room Kitty stabs Harper.
An aged lifer advises Marie to wait and go straight; but Marie goes to Elvira and gets out early with a cashier’s job. Benton warns Marie, who has become cynical. Marie is released and gets into a car with men. Benton says she will be back.
This realistic drama exposes the brutality and futility of a penal system that allows sadistic employees to worsen the lives of desperate criminals while a warden who cares is denied the resources to provide the rehabilitation services that are needed to make things better.