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Bill Clinton: I Was Wrong About Longer Prison Sentences

"I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it," Clinton said at the NAACP national convention in Philadelphia.

Posted on July 15, 2015, at 12:06 p.m. ET

Mike Stone / Reuters

PHILADELPHIA — Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday said the tough on crime bill he signed as president put too many people in jail whose punishment did not fit their crimes.

"I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it," he said.

"Most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend," Clinton said. "And that was overdone. We were wrong about that. That percentage of it, we were wrong about."

Clinton's comments came on the heels of President Obama's address here Tuesday at the NAACP's annual national convention in which he laid out a series of proposals to change the criminal justice system. Clinton acknowledged Obama's address. "I appreciate what he's done."

Clinton sought to justify why he acted the way he did. "Here's what happened," he said.

"When I took office we had had a roaring decade of rising crime," Clinton said. "We had gang warfare on the streets. We had little children being shot dead on the streets who were just innocent bystanders standing in their own place. We had kids in Los Angeles doing drills in their schools to learn how to drop down and get under their desk," because of drive-by shootings."

Violent crime had risen over the past three decades, Clinton said, and police forces around the country did not rise with it. To him, it justified putting another 100,000 officers on the streets.

Clinton closed his speech noting the number of college programs offered to incarcerated individuals dropped dramatically.

"There is almost a zero recidivism rate for people who get college degrees" inside prison, Clinton said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.