A new convict, Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford), is brought to Wakefield Penitentiary. However, it soon becomes clear that he is not just an ordinary prisoner. The new warden of the state prison enters his new post incognito in order to get to know him better.
The appalling conditions and conditions in the prison prompt him to initiate a fundamental reform in line with a humane idea of the meaning of punishment. The struggle against a system in which managers abuse their position for personal enrichment and create a cruel internal order becomes increasingly acute.
Brubaker, initially supported by the governor, seeks reform to make punishment truly serve to reform prisoners, but he provokes opposition from those who have benefited from privilege so far, as well as from a state prison commission riddled with politicking...