Last updated
In France, each department has a prefect who acts as the representative of the state. French Prefect.jpg
In France, each department has a prefect who acts as the representative of the state.

Prefect (from the Latin praefectus, substantive adjectival [1] form of praeficere: "put in front", meaning in charge) is a magisterial title of varying definition, but essentially refers to the leader of an administrative area.


A prefect's office, department, or area of control is called a prefecture, but in various post-Roman empire cases there is a prefect without a prefecture or vice versa. The words "prefect" and "prefecture" are also used, more or less conventionally, to render analogous words in other languages, especially Romance languages.

Ancient Rome

Praefectus was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking officials in ancient Rome, whose authority was not embodied in their person (as it was with elected Magistrates) but conferred by delegation from a higher authority. They did have some authority in their prefecture such as controlling prisons and in civil administration.

Feudal times

Especially in Medieval Latin, præfectus was used to refer to various officers—administrative, military, judicial, etc.—usually alongside a more precise term in the vernacular (such as Burggraf , which literally means Count of the Castle in the German language).


Saint Margaret attracts the attention of the Roman prefect, by Jean Fouquet from an illuminated manuscript Sainte Marguerite et Olibrius.jpg
Saint Margaret attracts the attention of the Roman prefect, by Jean Fouquet from an illuminated manuscript

The term is used by the Roman Catholic Church, which based much of its canon law terminology on Roman law, in several different ways.


In the context of schools, a prefect is a pupil who has been given certain responsibilities in the school, similar to the responsibilities given to a hall monitor or safety patrol members.

Many college preparatory boarding schools utilize the position of prefect as a high student leadership position.

Modern sub-national administration

In the 1980s, under the presidency of François Mitterrand (1981–1995), a fundamental change in the role of the prefect (and sub-prefect) took place. The previously extremely centralized French (Fifth) Republic was gradually decentralized by the creation of administrative regions and the devolution of central state powers into regions, departments, and communes (municipalities). New elected authorities were created (e.g. the Conseils régionaux) in order to administer the subdivisional entities (collectivités territoriales) of the nation (law from 2 March 1982). The changes have gradually altered the function of the prefect, who is still the chief representative of the state in a department, but without the omnipotent function of chief administrator. Instead, the prefect has acquired the non-titular roles of chief controller of regional, departmental, and communal public accounts, and of chief inspector of good (i.e. law-abiding) governance of the authorities of the respective territorial entities. [2]

A Préfet maritime is a French Admiral (Amiral) who is commissioned to be the chief commander of a Zone maritime (i.e. a section of the French territorial waters and the respective shores).

In Paris, the Préfet de police (prefect of police) is the head of the city's police under the direct authority of the Ministre de l'Intérieur (Minister of the Interior), which makes him unique as usually in French towns and cities the chief of the local police is subordinate to the mayor, who is the local representative of the minister in police matters.


In Paris, the Prefect of Police (Préfet de police) is the officer in charge of co-ordinating the city's police forces (see above under "France"). The local police in Japan are divided among prefectures too. Also, in several countries of Latin America, the rank of prefect is still in use. In the Investigations Police of Chile (Policia de Investigaciones de Chile) the rank of prefect is reserved for the highest-ranking officers. [3] On the other hand, in Argentina the Argentine Federal Penitentiary Service (Servicio Penitenciario Argentino) also use the rank of prefect as a high-ranking officer. [4]

Coast Guard

Several countries of Latin America use the term "prefecture" (prefectura) to denominate a Coast Guard service, whether these are independent organizations or as a part of a navy. The Argentine Naval Prefecture it is a federal Coast Guard service of Argentina independent from the Argentine Navy. On the other hand, the National Naval Prefecture of Uruguay has similar duties to the ones of a regular Coast Guard but it is subordinated to the National Navy of Uruguay.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local government</span> Lowest tier of administration within a sovereign state

Local government is a generic term for the lowest tiers of public administration within a particular sovereign state. This particular usage of the word government refers specifically to a level of administration that is both geographically localised and has limited powers. While in some countries, "government" is normally reserved purely for a national administration (government), the term local government is always used specifically in contrast to national government – as well as, in many cases, the activities of sub-national, first-level administrative divisions. Local governments generally act only within powers specifically delegated to them by law and/or directives of a higher level of government.In federal states, local government generally comprises a third or fourth tier of government, whereas in unitary states, local government usually occupies the second or third tier of government.

A governor is an administrative leader and head of a polity or political region, ranking under the head of state and in some cases, such as governors-general, as the head of a state's official representative. Depending on the type of political region or polity, a governor may be either appointed or elected, and the governor's powers can vary significantly, depending on the public laws in place locally. The adjective pertaining to a governor is gubernatorial, from the Latin root gubernare.

A prefecture is an administrative jurisdiction traditionally governed by an appointed prefect. This can be a regional or local government subdivision in various countries, or a subdivision in certain international church structures, as well as in antiquity a Roman district.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prefectures in France</span> Governmental subdivision in France

In France, a prefecture may be:

In many countries, a mayor is the highest-ranking official in a municipal government such as that of a city or a town. Worldwide, there is a wide variance in local laws and customs regarding the powers and responsibilities of a mayor as well as the means by which a mayor is elected or otherwise mandated. Depending on the system chosen, a mayor may be the chief executive officer of the municipal government, may simply chair a multi-member governing body with little or no independent power, or may play a solely ceremonial role. A mayor's duties and responsibilities may be to appoint and oversee municipal managers and employees, provide basic governmental services to constituents, and execute the laws and ordinances passed by a municipal governing body. Options for selection of a mayor include direct election by the public, or selection by an elected governing council or board.

The praetorian prefect was a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides. Under Constantine I, the office was much reduced in power and transformed into a purely civilian administrative post, while under his successors, territorially-defined praetorian prefectures emerged as the highest-level administrative division of the Empire. The prefects again functioned as the chief ministers of the state, with many laws addressed to them by name. In this role, praetorian prefects continued to be appointed by the Eastern Roman Empire until the reign of Heraclius in the 7th century AD, when wide-ranging reforms reduced their power and converted them to mere overseers of provincial administration. The last traces of the prefecture disappeared in the Byzantine Empire by the 840s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prefect (France)</span> States representative in a French department or region

A prefect in France is the state's representative in a department or region. Subprefects are responsible for the subdivisions of departments, known as arrondissements. The office of a prefect is known as a prefecture and that of a subprefect as a subprefecture. Regional prefects are ex officio the departmental prefects of the regional prefecture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paris Police Prefecture</span> French institution

The police prefecture is the unit of the French Ministry of the Interior that provides police, emergency services, and various administrative services to the population of the city of Paris and the surrounding three suburban départements of Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, and Val-de-Marne. It is headed by the Prefect of Police.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Praefectus</span> Prefect in ancient Rome

Praefectus, often with a further qualification, was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking, military or civil officials in the Roman Empire, whose authority was not embodied in their person but conferred by delegation from a higher authority. They did have some authority in their prefecture such as controlling prisons and in civil administration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Administrative centre</span> Seat of regional administration or local government

An administrative centre is a seat of regional administration or local government, or a county town, or the place where the central administration of a commune is located.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maritime prefect</span> Prefect in charge of a French maritime arrondissement

A maritime prefect is a servant of the French State who exercises authority over the sea in a particular region known as a maritime prefecture. As of 2023, there are three maritime prefects in metropolitan France, based in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, Brest and Toulon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman governor</span> Position

A Roman governor was an official either elected or appointed to be the chief administrator of Roman law throughout one or more of the many provinces constituting the Roman Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Argentine Naval Prefecture</span>

The Argentine Naval Prefecture is a service of Argentina's Security Ministry charged with protecting the country's rivers and maritime territory. It therefore fulfills the functions of other countries' coast guards, and furthermore acts as a gendarmerie force policing navigable rivers.

<i>Praefectus urbi</i> Magistrate of Rome

The praefectus urbanus, also called praefectus urbi or urban prefect in English, was prefect of the city of Rome, and later also of Constantinople. The office originated under the Roman kings, continued during the Republic and Empire, and held high importance in late Antiquity. The office survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and the last urban prefect of Rome, named Iohannes, is attested in 599. In the East, in Constantinople, the office survived until the 13th century.

A prefect in Romania represents the Government in each of the country's 41 counties, as well as the Municipality of Bucharest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Government of Cameroon</span>

The Republic of Cameroon is a decentralized unitary state.

Njomgang Isaac was a Cameroonian politician and administrator. He was the First black local Cameroonian Administrator appointed in Dschang Post Colonial Administration. He was born in 1931 at Tsep, Batoufam, West Region, Cameroon, and died in 2008.

The Bouches-du-Rhône Police Prefecture, headed by the Bouches-du-Rhône Police Prefect, is a Prefecture of Police part of the National Police, which is a police force in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône. It was created on 16 October 2012.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Administration of Paris</span>

As the capital of France, Paris is the seat of France's national government. For the executive, the two chief officers each have their own official residences, which also serve as their offices. The President of France resides at the Élysée Palace in the 8th arrondissement, while the Prime Minister's seat is at the Hôtel Matignon in the 7th arrondissement. Government ministries are located in various parts of the city; many are located in the 7th arrondissement, near the Matignon.

Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition, but which, basically, refers to the leader of an administrative area. It may also refer to:


  1. Adam's Latin Grammar
  2. Le petit Larousse 2013 pp873 and 1420
  3. "Policía de Investigaciones de Chile."International Encyclopedia of Uniform Insignia Forum. Retrieved Aug. 9, 2021.
  4. "LEY N° 20.416" . Retrieved August 9, 2021.