Bill Clinton: '90s anti-crime crackdown went too far

Former US president and founding chairman of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Bill Clinton, gestures during the opening session of the CGI Middle East and Africa on May 6, 2015 in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.


Former President Bill Clinton is rethinking the punitive criminal justice policies enacted while he was president, saying that his wife is "absolutely" right to call for criminal justice reform.

"The problem is the way it was written and implemented," the former president said Wednesday in an interview with CNN, referring to his 1994 crime bill, famous for a federal "three strikes" provision that doled out life sentences to criminals if they were convicted of a violent felony after two prior convictions. Though it was praised as a "tough on crime" win at the time, Clinton says it was partly responsible for the high incarceration rates in the country today.

"We have too wide a net. We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending - putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out that they could live productive lives."

Clinton also pointed the finger at Republicans for the three-strikes legislation attached to a bill that increased prison funding and banned assault weapons.

"I wanted to pass a bill and so I did go along with it," the former president said.

His comments come as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for an end to "the era of mass incarceration" -- an era that was in part ushered in by her husband.

"We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance, and these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again," the former secretary of state said to an audience gathered at Columbia University last week. In addressing the recent violence in Baltimore sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man in police custody, Clinton further outlined a comprehensive vision for criminal justice reform. Clinton called for the use of body cameras for law enforcement agencies around the country and for a change in police tactics.

The former president said in the interview that he "absolutely" agreed with his wife's move away from his anti-crime crackdown.

Bill Clinton is also expected to speak at Univision's upfront presentation in New York, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He will participate in a moderated question-and-answer session on May 12 for the Spanish-language network's annual pitch to advertisers and marketers. The presentation comes at the heels of his wife's presidential campaign launch in April and her recently declared support for immigration reform.

The former president is no stranger to the Hispanic community: He overwhelmingly won the demographic during in the 1992 and 1996 presidential election, and the Clinton Foundation partners with Univision for an early childhood education initiative. Hillary Clinton has also recently come out in support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, an issue important to Latino voters.

"We can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship," Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in a roundtable discussion with young Nevadans with undocumented families. "This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side. Make no mistakes: today, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly or consistently supporting a path to citizenship."