Inside Monaco’s Jail
Monaco has the largest police force and police presence in the world — on both a per-capita and per-area basis. In Monaco, you can barely cross a street without the authorities knowing about it, as closed-circuit cameras are about as ubiquitous as supercars in Monaco. But if you do happen to do something illegal, you’ll wind up in Monaco’s Maison d’Arrêt—a jail with multi-million-dollar views.
It’s no wonder that a prisoner in Monaco costs the country about €300 per day, compared to €100 in France.
Maison d’Arrêt sits along the craggy cliffs of Monaco that overlook the Ligurian Sea (a part of the Mediterranean Sea between the Italy and the Corsica). Which is all to say, prisoners facing southeast look out over the calm, deep blue waters of the sea—views that others around them pay tens of millions of dollars to enjoy.
And it’s not as if the prison was cast aside to some forgotten corner of Monaco. Perched on the rock above the harbor, it’s just a hundred meters down the road from the Prince’s palace.
Within the prison complex, there are four cell-blocks: one for women (which faces the sea), one for juveniles, and two for men (one for residents and one for those who live elsewhere… the cells for foreign men are not comfortable). The female convicts in the tiny prison get an amazing sea view, and comfortable cell – despite the wire above their heads to prevent escape by helicopter. The men are situated in another area which is far less glam, and doesn’t have views. Most cells are equipped with a TV, fridge, electric kettle, and air conditioning.
The jail also has a chapel, a prison yard, a kitchen, a gym, a weight room, a library with hundreds of books, and a computer lab. They’re given access to hairdressers and dentists, medical care, and a games room where they can play ping pong. The medical office is made up of three nurses, a doctor comes three times a week, a dentist every two weeks, a psychologist twice a week, a psychiatrist once a week.
Inmates (who are Monaco residents) are treated well. They are served pasta with entrecôte steak and bruschetta with tomato and Emmental cheese. Inmates are also paid for odd jobs around the prison, including painting or small repairs. It’s no wonder that a prisoner in Monaco costs the country about €300 per day, compared to €100 in France.
The reasons for inmates arriving to Mason d’Arrêt vary between theft (30%) to financial crimes (20%). It’s even been said that a person found guilty of kicking a cat in public can end up in Maison d’Arrêt for a month. So, watch your step!
In stark contrast to the conditions in the Monaco jail, police holding cells in Nice have been described as “medieval dungeons” by the region’s lawyers. L’Ordre des avocats de Nice has taken legal action against the Minister of the Interior to demand compliance with sanitary regulations. The “lawyers found shocking conditions during a visit to a police station in Nice, with no hygiene kits, unchanged paper blankets, and filth”, although a spokesman for the home office said conditions have improved (but it’s hard to imagine how they used to be even worse!)
The History of Monaco’s Prison
Although there is little information available on Monaco’s prisons before 1789, it is likely that they were located directly within the Prince’s Palace, as indicated in a treasury document from 1726 and corroborated by numerous other historical records.
In 1792, the Principality, connected to France, was engaged in disputes on all fronts and had to house the prisoners of war. An official record dated 4 Ventôse Year VIII of the French Republic (23 February 1800) issued by the military commander of Monaco noted the deplorable state of six apartments within the Palace that served as a prison.
The Royal Family returned to Monaco in 1815 and regained possession of the Palace. The various offices that were set up in the Palace illegitimately during the French Revolution were removed. The Principality had to face the broader issue of how to set up a judicial system and ensure public order. In a first attempt at reforming the prison system, Prince Honoré V decided to make use of former warehouses. But these facilities proved to be insufficient and unsuited to the needs of a prison.
Around 1865, the decision was made to house the prison in a large underground chamber underneath the St. Martin Gardens. This area, measuring 46 meters long by 9 meters wide and 6 meters high, was part of the fortifications built in the early 17th century by Prince Antoine I, near the Fort that bears His name. Designed to house the population and the military in case of attack, it also had the advantage of being equipped with a large-capacity water tank.
In March 1990, the administration of the correctional system was placed under the authority of the Secretary of Justice. Following in the example of many other European countries, the enforcement of sentences now falls entirely under the responsibility of Monaco’s judicial branch.
Evolution of the Prison Population
When looking at the prison’s records, three very different phases stand out:
1886 to World War I
At the end of the 19th century, the number of inmates was relatively high due to the economic growth of the Principality and, especially, of the founding of Monte Carlo, which attracted a wide variety of profit-seekers seeking easy money.
From this period on, foreigners began to comprise a significant percentage of the prison population. For instance, the registry of arrests for the year 1900 documents 14 different nationalities. The number of people in prison dropped significantly as Europe mobilized for World War I.
1919 to 1960
This period was marked by a net drop in the number of inmates in relation to the previous period, despite a substantial increase from 1926 to 1936 and immediately following World War II. This increase was the result of the socio-economic environment and historical circumstances of these two periods.
1960 to 2004
This was a time of change, during which the Remand Prison was at times required to house more than two hundred inmates during a single year (215 inmates admitted and recorded in the registry of arrests for the year 1983).
Also, it appears that the crimes related to most of these incarcerations were changing in relation to prior periods. For instance, drug-related violations and “white-collar crime” rose significantly during this period. Regarding the nationality of the inmates, there was a clear trend toward greater diversity. In 1984, for example, 40% of the entire prison population represented citizens of countries other than Monaco or France.
2004 to 2012
A change is obvious in the prison population, 50% of which is now made up of foreigners who are neither French nor Monegasque in nationality. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in the number of juvenile inmates as well as in the number of inmates from Eastern Europe (over 20% of inmates). Monaco has the highest rate of female prisoners of total prison population of any country in the world, at 24% female inmates.
Despite an increase in the number of juvenile inmates, a relatively calm atmosphere prevails in the detention center, with inmates tolerating their incarceration in a rather “tranquil” manner. A partnership with the Department of Education, Youth and Sport was formed in 2011 to allow juveniles to continue their education and various related activities.
Unlike previous years, it is difficult to categorize the crimes committed during this period, although 25% of arrests were for driving under the influence of alcohol, 30% for theft and 20% for financial crimes.
Jason Bateman’s Arrest in Monaco
On his podcast, Smartless, A-list actor Jason Bateman admitted that, during the F1 Grand Prix, he got drunk at the Monte Carlo casino when he was 20 years old (wearing a leopard-print suit!) and was staying at a hotel just outside of Monaco.
At 4am he asked the men delivering newspapers if he could get a ride, and they were rude to him in return, so he smacked the side of the truck in frustration. In response, they punched him so hard that it knocked him unconscious.
He woke up horizontal on the street, with a dislocated shoulder, when a Monaco police officer arrested him and put him in the drunk tank at the Police station by the bottom entrance to the Rock, next to the F1 pits. He woke in the morning to the sound of the F1 cars.
Spiderman is in the Monaco Jail
An enterprising 40-year-old Lithuanian national with rock-climbing experience made use of his expertise on several occasions by climbing several tall buildings in Monaco to steal valuables. Law enforcement branded him Spiderman.
He choose residences close to the border with France, so he could make a quick escape. In June 2019, he ascended the Odeon Tower (one of Monaco’s most prestigious residential buildings), where he broke into an apartment close to the summit of the 50-floor skyscraper and cracked into a safe to steal €2 million worth of watches and jewelry, plus €35,000 in cash. The owners were away for a few days, but he left behind his climbing gear and a rope hanging from the victim’s terrace.
In September he tried his luck near the heliport, but woke the lady resident, who came face-to-face with the thief. Her safe was still attached to a pulley to be placed on an abandoned site in Cap-d’Ail.
Avenue Princess Grace was also targeted, and a window was forced open on the 27th floor of the Formentor building. A metal cabinet was found in the basement with a bag, a homemade grappling hook, ropes, sneakers and climbing gear. DNA analysis recovered from the objects showed a match to a Lithuanian national. His DNA was circulated around the world, and a photo was sent by the Baltic authorities.
Apparently, he wanted to fit in with the Monaco crowd, as he came back to party and watch the 2021 Grand Prix, where he was recognized and arrested. He has not cooperated or been forthcoming about his (likely many) other robberies. He, instead, claims to be the “victim of a conspiracy”.
The court has sentenced Spiderman to 3 years for the robberies that they can prove, plus 5 months for using a false identity. He was held in pre-trial detention, much of it in solitary confinement, since May 23, 2021. In the end, he got his wish: to be a resident of Monaco!
Monaco’s Police Force
The safest city on the French Riviera (and perhaps in the world) is Monaco. With nation-wide video surveillance, three police stations, and one police officer per 73 residents, Monaco has safety standards so strict that it is known as the safest square mile in the world. Compare that to NYC, one of the USA’s most policed and safest cities, which has one officer per 233 residents.
The 519 police officers are carefully selected from the French police force and must go through an additional two-year intensive training program to serve in Monaco. It’s a very desirable position as they get a high salary and a free seaside apartment in Fontvieille, Monaco.
The Monaco police don’t mess around: the rules are extremely strict and while the Monaco jail is notoriously comfortable, the court system in Monaco almost always pronounces maximum sentences. So behave yourself!
Monaco has a system of 24-hour video surveillance spanning the entire surface area of the Principality, including the majority of residential building lobbies, a transmitting system worthy of the best armies in the world, the possibility of blocking all access in and out of the Principality in several minutes. And we mustn’t forget the surveillance teams inside of the Casino and in all of the gambling establishments and hotels.
This works well for residents and tourists, as you won’t need to worry about your diamond bracelet or designer bag being stolen, or your child going missing. If your child wanders off, the police will be able to track him/her with facial-recognition video tracking and find your child in a matter of minutes.