Barnardo's has recruited Martin Narey, the head of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), as chief executive.
He will join the charity in January, succeeding Roger Singleton, who is retiring at the age of 62.
Narey, who has worked in the public sector for 23 years, leaves as Noms is preparing the first series of contracts that the private and voluntary sectors will be invited to bid for later this year.
He told Third Sector that he had not been looking for other jobs, but that he was impressed by the charity when he was approached by headhunters.
He said the merger of prison and probation services and their opening to external competition had been a long and complex process, but "I will make sure that I leave with things in order". Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that Noms tried to do "too many things at once".
The job at Barnardo's was advertised at £120,000. In 2003, Narey's civil service role attracted between £135,000 and £140,000.