Bill Clinton says tough '90s crime bill went too far

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attends the Clinton Global Initiative's 2015 Winter Meeting in New York February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton acknowledged on Wednesday that an anti-crime crackdown he pushed in 1994 went too far, and said he now supports his wife Hillary's plans to reverse some of those justice policies.

Bill Clinton signed into law a crime bill that imposed tougher sentences, put thousands of more police on the streets and helped fund the building of extra prisons.

But the era of mass incarceration is now being questioned because of the continuing high proportion of Americans - especially black males - who are in prison.

The anti-crime legislation was known for its federal "three strikes" provision that sent violent offenders to prison for life. The bill was backed by congressional Republicans and hailed at the time as a success for Clinton.

But the former president told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that it was imperfect.

"The problem is the way it was written and implemented. 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," he said, according to a CNN transcript of the interview.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has criticized mass incarceration, launching an effort last week to reform the criminal justice system and cut sentences in the wake of the Baltimore riots.

Asked by CNN whether he agreed with his wife moving away from his policy, Clinton replied: "Oh, absolutely," according to the transcript.

Clinton also said foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation charity did not affect U.S. foreign policy when Hillary was secretary of state between 2009 and 2013.

"We had a policy when she was secretary of state that we would only continue accepting money from people who were already giving us money," he said.

Bill Clinton said on Monday he may consider stepping down or taking less of an executive role at the Clinton Foundation should his wife become president.

The Clintons' political opponents have criticized the foundation for accepting funding from foreign governments for its endowment and for its charitable work abroad.

(Reporting by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernard Orr)