Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for reform to the justice system, including an end to excessive prison sentences in a speech at Columbia University. (Reuters)

This story has been updated.

Tough-on-crime policies that emphasized arrests and convictions for relatively minor offenses have failed the country, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, leading to overcrowded prisons and too many black men "missing" from their families and communities.

"We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system," Clinton told an audience at Columbia University in New York.

Calling for an "end to the era of mass incarceration," Clinton endorsed body cameras for police nationwide to record interactions between officers and potential suspects. Making her most specific policy proposals since launching her campaign earlier this month, Clinton said it's time for a nationwide overhaul of what she called misguided and failed policing and prison strategies.

In effect, she was saying that policies put in place when her husband Bill Clinton was president have not worked. Clinton did not mention her husband or identify exactly which laws and sentencing policies she thought had gone wrong. But many of those policies grew out of the crackdown on drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses that took place before and during Bill Clinton's presidency 20 years ago.

Later in the day, a Clinton campaign spokesman tamped down on the notion that she was refuting her husband's policies:

In her address, Clinton said there is an emerging bipartisan consensus that the current system isn't working. Much of the speech dealt with the deaths of black men after interactions with police, and the protests that turned violent in Baltimore this week.

She listed some of those men, including Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody set off the Baltimore rioting.

[Here's how the presidential candidates reacted to Baltimore unrest]

"Not only as a mother and grandmother, but as a citizen, as a human being, my heart breaks for these young men and their families," Clinton said. "We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America."

She reeled off statistics about what she called the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for black men and what she called the broader economic and educational inequality of poor and minority communities.

"We need smart strategies to fight crime that help restore trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color," she added.

Speaking at Columbia University on April 29, 2015, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton commented on the unrest in Baltimore and a need for reform in the U.S. justice system. (Columbia University)