Can't remember? Your number, lad, that's all you are, a number! A number!
Four digits. That's all you are! 4736! Name and number?
The film begins with three young men in a vehicle, being driven to a borstal. The three men are Carlin, Angel and Davis. All are hand-cuffed.
When they arrive at the institution, they are subjected to physical and verbal abuse before being allocated their beds. While Angel and Davis are in single rooms (Angel for his race, as many of the inmates are prejudiced), Carlin is sent to a dormitory where he is ordered by Mr Sands to unpack his possessions and make the bed.
Carlin struggles to settle into the dormitory, having been warned by the senior officer and by highbrow inmate Archer that Banks is in the same room and has already got an eye on him, owing to Carlin's past form as a 'daddy' in institutions. Banks has already victimised the petrified Davis in front of Carlin, and eventually attacks Carlin at night with his stooges. Carlin's black eye earns him a reprimand and solitary punishment for fighting. They also get at Angel by attacking him and trashing his cell, and Davis is tricked into borrowing a radio which is then reported stolen.
Carlin eventually settles down, choosing not to react to the provocation of Banks and his stooges until he can find the right moment. Eventually, he takes over from Banks thanks to a vicious assault on him in the bathroom, leaving him badly cut and dazed, having already smacked Richards, the main batman to Banks, with a sock containing snooker balls. The other inmates accept his new status, as do the staff - reluctantly - especially after Carlin then responds to a challenge from 'Baldy', the 'daddy' of another wing by beating him up in the boilerhouse, yet allowing him to maintain his 'daddy' status, although under his command.
Life improves for the inmates under Carlin, with the victimisation of younger, weaker prisoners coming to a halt. Carlin does, however, reduce the amount of money prisoners can keep from the notes brought in from outside, to establish his credentials. The rest of the time he is content to do his time under less pressure and enjoy Archer's company.
The atmosphere declines when Toyne receives a letter telling him his wife had died, which leads to his attempted suicide when he slashes his wrists. He dies later after a second attempt, away from the borstal, succeeds. That, and the gang rape of Davis in the greenhouse followed by the broken youngster's own suicide (and ignored pleas for help from the officers), leads to a huge riot in the dining room under Carlin and Archer's direction.
The film ends with the governor informing the prisoners of their forfeiture of privileges until the damage is paid for, and ordering a silent prayer for the two dead inmates. Nobody, at any point, is released from the institution during the film, and no ending for any inmate - aside from the two deaths - is hinted at.
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